Best documentaries about women, from RBG to Honeyland

Best documentaries about women, from RBG to Honeyland

Posted by for Film

Looking for something new to watch? Try broadening your mind with one of these incredible documentaries about women…

Once upon a time, we would’ve considered watching a documentary to be the height of boredom (sorry) – and that’s primarily because we’ve not had easy access to the best titles.

Thanks to streaming platforms like YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and All 4, though, we now have a wealth of brilliant documentary films at our fingertips. So much so, in fact, that it can be hard to whittle down which ones are worth our time.

To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the best documentaries by and about women.

Get ready to feel inspired…

RBG

"The notorious RBG" was known for her humour and ferocity.

Painstakingly researched, Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s RBG – a brilliant tapestry of interviews, public appearances and archival material – takes us back to the late (and great) Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early days, when she was one of nine women in a Harvard Law School class of 500.

After graduation, no New York law firm would hire her – or any other woman, for that matter. But like the absolute fucking rockstar that she is, Ginsburg was inspired by this brushoff to prove that sex discrimination was every bit as real and unjust as racial discrimination – and fight her way to the very top to put an end to both.

RBG is available to stream on Netflix.

Becoming

A poignant scene from Michelle Obama’s Becoming
A poignant scene from Michelle Obama’s Becoming.

“I am from the south side of Chicago. That tells you as much about me as you need to know.”

Becoming – named after Michelle Obama’s best-selling memoir – takes viewers along with Obama on her 34-city book tour, offering an “intimate”, “rare and up-close” look at her life in the process.

In doing so, it captures the struggles of a former First Lady of the US. It also, though, makes it abundantly clear that Obama is every bit as wise, funny, compassionate, smart, and honest as we all hoped, which makes this one hell of an inspiring watch.

Becoming is available to stream on Netflix.

For Sama

Filmed over five years, this award-winning film is ostensibly about the uprising in Aleppo, Syria.

Unlike so many other war documentaries, though, For Sama offers us a uniquely female insight into the conflict.

How? By contrasting the bombings and constant uncertainty with Syrian journalist Waad Al-Kateab’s blossoming relationship, as she falls in love, gets married, and gives birth to a baby daughter.

For Sama is available to stream on All 4.

Grey Gardens

Anyone who remembers Jinkx Monsoon’s portrayal of ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale in the Snatch Game of RuPaul’s Drag Race will no doubt have already felt compelled to look this award-winning documentary up.

Because, all about the aforementioned Edie (an eccentric relative of the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis), Grey Gardens details the high school dropout’s day-to-day life as the sole inhabitant of a rapidly decaying Long Island estate. Well, the sole inhabitant save for her mother, of course.

During the course of the documentary, these engaging women discuss their lives with filmmakers Albert and David Maysles. Much of the conversation is centered on their pasts, though, as the duo rarely ever leave the confines of their home…

Grey Gardens is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga shows off her more vulnerable side in Gaga: Five Foot Two.

Think you know Lady Gaga? Think again. In Gaga: Five Foot Two, filmmaker Chris Moukarbel introduces the woman behind the performer, the costumes, the glitz, and the glamour.

As such, it’s filled with moments that feel both intimate and painful – despite the fact that the seasoned performer remains fully in control of what is shown, how much of herself she is willing to share, and just how vulnerable she is willing to let herself be.

Gaga: Five Foot Two is available to stream on Netflix.

Athlete A

Athlete A is now available to stream on Netflix UK
Athlete A is now available to stream on Netflix UK.

Larry Nassar – the USA Gymnastics team doctor who abused hundreds of young women – is the subject of the hugely important Athlete A.

Throughout the film, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk ask two key questions: why was Nassar able to abuse these women for more than two decades? Did USA Gymnastics (USAG) cover it up? And who were the women who finally felt compelled to stand up and speak out?

Athlete A is available to stream on Netflix.

Knock Down The House

This brilliant documentary follows four female nominees running for office in the 2018 midterms, with behind-the-scenes footage on the campaign trail and in the lead up to the elections. One of these young women, a bartender, is none other than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who became the youngest woman ever to be elected to the United States Congress in November 2018.

No wonder it’s one of Netflix’s most talked-about documentaries to date, eh?

Knock Down The House is available to stream on Netflix.

Honeyland

Directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, Honeyland tells the story of Hatidže Muratova, a loner beekeeper of wild bees who lives in the remote mountain village of Bekirlija.

Filmed over three years, the documentary details Hatidže’s relationship with her bedridden mother, the ancient beekeeping techniques she employs, and the deterioration of her friendship with the man who moves in next door.

To reveal much more would take us into spoiler territory, so all we’ll say is this; there’s a reason so many critics have lauded this film.

Honeyland is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

Audrie And Daisy

In two towns on different sides of the USA, two teenage girls pass out while intoxicated at high school parties. Both are sexually assaulted by boys they had considered to be friends. Both struggle to deal with the trauma they’ve just experienced. Both end up facing a great deal of online harassment in the wake of their assaults. And both, as a result, end up attempting suicide.

Exploring rape, trauma, power, and the coming of age in the world of social media, this powerful Netflix documentary tells Audrie and Daisy’s stories.

Audrie And Daisy is available to stream on Netflix.

A Secret Love

Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel in A Secret Love.
Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel in A Secret Love.

A Secret Love tells an incredible love story between Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, whose relationship spans nearly seven decades and inspired the hit movie A League Of Their Own. But the film did not tell the real-life story of the women who remained closeted for most of their lives, and so this documentary follows Terry and Pat back to when they met for the first time, through their professional lives in Chicago, coming out to their conservative families and grappling with whether or not to get married.

A Secret Love is available to stream on Netflix.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé

Built around her 2018 Coachella performance, this uplifting and inspiring documentary is, above all, about Beyoncé. We’re with her every step of the way as she endures eight months of rehearsals, we see firsthand the sheer effort she puts into everything she does, and we truly feel the enormity of her influence and success, too.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé is available to stream on Netflix.

Amy

We might already think we know everything there is to know about the late Amy Winehouse, who tragically died when she was just 27. As Asif Kapadia’s documentary makes abundantly clear, though, we absolutely don’t.

Combining archival footage and personal testimonials, this haunting film begins with intimate home movies, zooms outwards into paparazzi footage, before slowly fading to black.

In the process, it truly drives home the apparent Faustian pact that all celebrities are forced to sign, as it deals with all the toxic fallout of fame and fandom.

Amy is available to rent on YouTube.

He Named Me Malala

The Taliban tried to kill her for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education, but Malala Yousafzai would not be silenced. Instead, she emerged as a leading advocate for children’s rights and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, her name becoming synonymous with bravery, equality, and freedom.

This documentary doesn’t just detail her incredible story, though: it also serves as a testament to the fact that true strength comes from within, as well as an important reminder of the need to speak up for our beliefs – and for those who don’t have a voice, too.

He Named Me Malala is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

All In: The Fight For Democracy

stacey abrams
Stacey Abrams dazzles in All In: The Fight For Democracy.

All In: The Fight For Democracy has a 100% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and for good reason. A galvanising rallying cry for democracy, it sees filmmakers Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes examine centuries of voter suppression in the USA through the lens of Stacey Abrams’ 2018 bid for Georgia governor.

And the result? Well, the result is, quite frankly, every bit as unnerving as it is inspiring.

All In: The Fight For Democracy is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

This meticulous documentary, which opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, uses never-before-heard recordings, rare archival footage, and her best-known songs to chronicle the life of legendary singer and activist Nina Simone.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

Venus

A film born out of sexual frustration, Venus begins as two female directors launch an investigation into the world of sex, sensuality, and sexuality.

When some 100 women from all around Copenhagen answer their open casting call, though, the original plan is utterly derailed. Because, during the auditions process, the women slowly take over the interviews to share their sexual experiences – leaving the directors in stunned, awestruck silence.

Venus is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video.

20 Feet From Stardom

20 Feet From Stardom won Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards.
20 Feet From Stardom won Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards.

“I reject the notion that the job you excel at is somehow not enough to aspire to, that there has to be something more. But I love supporting other artists.

“Some people will do anything to be famous. I just wanted to sing.”

In this utter crowdpleaser of a documentary, filmmaker Morgan Neville rewrites the history of pop music by shining a long-overdue spotlight on outstanding backup singers like Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Merry Clayton, and many others.

The result? A rich and heartbreaking tapestry of vital voices – one which was deservingly awarded the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 86th Academy Awards.

20 Feet From Stardom is available to buy or rent on YouTue.

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty/Netflix

Share this article

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray