Woke Life: 7 Documentaries That Promise to Expand Your Mind

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While the world is changing more rapidly than we can ever enumerate, there are a few immutable facts emerging: there is no bottom to corporate greed, there’s a growing disparity between the wealthy elite and the lower class, and the environment is suffering due to human behavior. Most of us have watched a documentary on at least one – if not all – of the aforementioned issues, so we owe a debt of gratitude to filmmakers and individuals who make it their mission to wake up the rest of the world to injustices, large and small.

Mind-expanding documentaries that touch on veiled subjects like geopolitical tensions and uprisings, race relations, gender-disparity issues, food-safety concerns, and other subjects are rapid and accessible ways to educate oneself about the world around them. Personally, this editor makes it her mission to watch at least one informative and socially relevant documentary per week. Maybe this list will inspire you to make it yours as well.




If you are a sensitive soul, this documentary will wreck you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. On its surface, Virunga appears to be about the preservation of a lush gorilla habitat deep in the Congo’s Virunga National Park and the humans who have devoted their lives to protecting and nourishing the animals.

However, this explosive documentary takes a sharp and horrific turn when a fearless French investigative journalist by the name of Mélanie Gouby uncovers a plot by British oil company Soco International to obtain a portion of the protected park via illegal bribes. The outcome is shocking. This film is an unflinching portrait of how multinational corporations are able to circumvent international laws because of their endlessly deep pockets, and how they are willing to sacrifice the animals and humans who get in their way

Find it on Netflix here.


Chasing Coral


This Netfix documentary could not have come at a better time. While some of the most prominent political figures in the United States deny the existence of climate change despite the consensus of 99.9 percent of the global scientific community, the environment is headed towards disaster regardless.

In Chasing Coral, viewers are submerged in the colorful fantasy world of coral reefs and their seemingly infinite varieties of local wildlife, only to discover that they are, in fact, witnessing the death of these unique biological systems. Rising water temperatures due to climate change are the leading cause of coral death, and this documentary urges action to put a stop to this senseless loss of valuable marine life.

Find it on Netflix here.

Chasing Coral still
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Tickling Giants


Former The Daily Show host Jon Stewart pulled roughly two million viewers every day, but his Egyptian counterpart Dr. Bassem Youssef pulls 30 million – that’s an immense gulf of difference. Tickling Giants, which follows Dr. Youssef’s extraordinary journey from heart surgeon by day to late-night comedy talk-show host, points to a man determined to speak the truth to power.

His incredible wit and insights, teamed with a heaping dose of political controversy, make this a must-watch documentary. Although Dr. Youssef had to shut down his show due to mounting political pressure, his satirical imprint lives on. This documentary, while sobering in reality, will still keep you laughing until the bitter end.

Find it on Netflix here.




While Sustainable focuses primarily on the American food movement, its tenets can be applied with broad strokes to the global food community. Rapidly evolving environmental and economic pressures have caused a crisis in the food industry; we are spoiling our farmable lands due to soil degradation. That means our planet has lost an entire third of its arable lands in the past 40 years because pesticides, water depletion, and over-farming have stripped the soil of nourishment.

Sustainable returns humans to the source, tracking individuals who are urging and refining the sustainable food movement. This eye-opening documentary will not only make you question where your food comes from and how it got onto your plate, but it will also make you consider changing your dietary habits to include food that is sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly.

Find it on Netflix here.


Enlighten Us


Enlighten Us traces the rise and fall of motivational speaker and spiritual guru James Arthur Ray, forcing us to consider how belief develops. The charismatic Ray – who authored Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want – certainly didn’t attract the life he expected when he first embarked on his ploy as a spiritual leader. Ray’s intent with his followers was to push them further than they thought possible, and his practices included extreme measures like sleep deprivation and fire walking.

You will be shocked as to just how many people bought into his act, and even further undone by how far he goes in the name of enlightenment. Our take: Question everything, and never enter a sweat lodge with a man who makes you pay $10,000 for a vision quest.

Find it on Netflix here.

Enlighten Us James Arthur Ray
Photo: Courtesy of The Verge



You’ve no doubt heard of the “hygge” lifestyle/design movement, but have you heard of the innsaei spiritual movement? In the Icelandic language, innsaei means “intuition” and “the sea within”, or that little internal voice that guides your thoughts.

This beautiful documentary chronicles the movement’s deeper metaphysical meaning, urging humans to take journeys into themselves in order to develop a strong inner compass with which to navigate the world. From interviews with scientists like Marti Spiegelman, a world-renowned expert in neuroscience and indigenous consciousness, to the famed installation and performance artist Marina Abramovic, this fascinating film helps unlock an aspect of human consciousness that modern civilization typically ignores.

Find it on Netflix here.



Amazon Prime

This exhilarating documentary is so incredibly inspiring that it will leave you feeling like you want to be a better human in all aspects of your life. Meru takes us on a heartbreaking journey with a team of mountain-climbing experts who seek to conquer the world’s most unconquerable peak: the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru in the Indian Himalayas, a razor-sharp and intensely slick spine that rises 21,850 feet in the air.

Lives are lost, people suffer, but then redemption and renewal come when you least expect it. You could easily just watch this movie for the astonishing footage of avalanches and risky ice-wall climbing alone. However, it is the tale of human triumph over immense setbacks that makes this one of the most motivational documentaries in existence.

Find it on Amazon Prime here.

Meru Peak - Exhausted, Renan Ozturk contemplates the long descent after making the summit. The top is only half way.
Photo: Courtesy of @JimmyChin

Promo Photo: Courtesy of @LiChiPan

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