Tissues at the ready! Netflix documentaries that will make you cry
Tissues at the ready, folks, because the Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor is out and it’s proving to be one to get those face faucets leaking. In an interview with IndieWire, director Morgan Neville discussed the Sundance hit which chronicles the life of the late, great host of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
Speaking about why he thinks the doc’s got Oscar potential written all over it, Neville revealed how even he was reduced to tears in the editing room. But it’s not just Neville – the film has had a similar effect on audiences from all walks of life. “I wanted to make a film to remind people about the value of radical kindness,” he said.
“Fred’s message, when I distill it, he talked about grace. It’s this idea that kindness is not a naive notion like believing in unicorns and rainbows or something. It’s like oxygen: It is vital, and needs to be nurtured.” Neville went on to discuss how the heartfelt messages portrayed through Rogers’s story feature all kinds of triggers, adding “your emotional bullseye is going to get hit at some point during the film.”
To mark the release of this emotive portrait of a beloved entertainment figure, here are ten Netflix Originals documentaries that are sure to make you cry. When you’re working your way through these, be sure to have those tissues on hand and if anyone catches you, just say you had something in your eye. It works every time!
Audrie & Daisy (2016)
As one of the most harrowing movies on this list, Audrie & Daisy is an unflinching account of high-school sexual assault, focusing and exposing the at times fatal effect of social media shaming on the victims. These heavy themes are explored via the stories of two high school students who were sexually assaulted, humiliated online, and harassed by their communities, exposing a culture in which abuse is rife and the perpetrators are often not punished for their crimes.
Ava DuVernay’s (A Wrinkle In Time) hard-hitting crime drama will make you cry out of frustration if nothing else. Deep diving into the prison system in the United States, 13th exposes its true nature as a modern day slave trade. The title is taken from the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery but left a significant loophole in that it allowed involuntary servitude to be used as a punishment for crime. As the rich and complex information presented in the film shows, this was exploited in the aftermath of the civil war and continues to be abused to this day.
Netflix’s short film documentary focuses on death, exposing the central tension in end-of-life care decisions. It might only be short, but Extremis is heavy on the emotions that come with such weighty decisions as doctors, patients, and families in a Californian hospital intensive care unit face harrowing choices. Be sure to have the Kleenex ready for this one.
The Keepers (2017)
There are no two ways about it – this Netflix Originals docuseries will destroy you emotionally. Tackling the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik – a beloved nun and Catholic high school teacher in Baltimore – a group of brave young women seek the truth behind the case. However, along the way they end up uncovering decades of sexual abuse carried out at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School and the pain that lingers nearly five decades after her death.
What Happened, Miss Simone (2015)
Liz Garbus’s (Girlhood) epic documentary on the iconic singer, songwriter, and activist Nina Simone is so powerful, you’ll be sobbing due to the overwhelming range of emotions that are present within her story. Following the high priestess of soul through the various challenges and successes of her musical career to her participation in the civil rights movement of the 60s and the toll it took on her mental health, What Happened, Miss Simone is at once heart-rending, inspiring, and powerful.
Strong Island (2017)
Strong Island is an achingly personal true-crime documentary that centers on the murder of director Yance Ford’s own brother. The case involves William Ford Jr. – a 24-year-old black high school teacher from Long Island – who was murdered by a white 19-year-old student back in 1992. This film seeks to expose the judicial system that allowed William’s killer to walk free, interrogating the murderous fear and racialized perception that infiltrates modern society in a bid to challenge perceptions and ignite change.
Orlando von Einsiedel’s (The White Helmets) Oscar-nominated documentary focuses on the park rangers at the Virunga National Park in the Congo, and their struggle to protect the mountain gorillas who live there. The tears will be flowing when you see just how much these rangers love those darn animals and just how far they’ll go to fight for their lives.
After suffering a serious bacterial infection, losing her mother, and then being diagnosed with breast cancer in quick succession, comedian Tig Notaro decided to announce her illness during a poignant stand-up set that became legendary overnight. In the engaging and moving documentary Tig, we’re shown the events leading up to the set and the aftermath, providing a heartfelt portrait of one woman’s life and her work as the two intersect.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson re-examines the tragic 1992 death of the transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson – whose body was found floating in the Hudson river – which was ruled as suicide, but many suspect was a murder. In addition to exploring the case, the film looks at the impact of Johnson’s life on her loved ones and on the LGBTQI community overall.
Kingdom of Us (2017)
You’ll be sobbing like a good’un throughout the entirety of director Lucy Cohen’s heart-rending documentary which offers a touching and intimate view into the lives of a grieving wife and her seven children following the suicide of their father. With home movies, photos, and interviews, Cohen records the family’s hardships as they attempt to recover both emotionally and financially.