THE SQUARE documentary Jehane Noujaim

For those of us born since around the early ’70s, we’ve been growing up in a world that was steadily going global. But today, in the 2016 of global economy, location independence, and international personal lives, we’re in many ways already there.

As more and more of the world becomes available to us, we have a growing responsibility to make ourselves informed consumers and participants in global society. To gain insights into the lives of some of the seven billion other humans who share our planet and learn about the common challenges facing many of us, start with these six documentaries.


1) Century of the Self

Century of the Self is an eye-opening investigation of the origins and consequences of consumerism in the West, but with a psychoanalytic twist. The documentary details how Freudian psychology was systematically applied to the world of the 20th century free market to induce us to want to spend more, starting with Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew and the founding father of the field of public relations.

Century of the Self regards the societal drive to spend with skepticism, and takes an important look at how the latest kitchen appliance is in many ways keeping us distracted from the things that really need and deserve our attention in the world. Watch the first episode or the whole series for free at Top Documentary Films.


2) Breaking the Taboo

What started out as America’s War on Drugs quickly became a global phenomenon with heavy consequences for an entire generation, in the US as well as in Latin American neighbors like Mexico and Colombia. Breaking the Taboo takes a critical look at how policy decisions in one country can have extreme consequences for children, families, and entire industries in other countries.

This film looks not only at the failures of the global war on drugs, but also at success stories like the famous tolerance of the Netherlands and the Latin American countries on cutting edge of progress, like Uruguay.

You can rent or buy Breaking the Taboo on Amazon or the iTunes store.


3) Girl Rising

Girl Rising documents the lives of nine young girls growing up in different parts of the developing world. As it surveys young girls’ stories of human trafficking, violence, arranged marriages, and more, this documentary promotes a powerful message about the girls that are “rising” to reshape our world into a more equal one.

Girl Rising reminds us of the importance of educating young girls and developing them into community leaders, while also reminding us to tip our hats to the women of the world who are leading the revolution by balancing work and family and generally being badasses.

You can watch Girl Rising on Netflix or purchase a download from the official website.


4) Black Gold

One of the places we can have the most impact with the least effort is as consumers. Black Gold asks us to think about how something so abundant in most of our lives, coffee, travels from a person’s farm to your local Starbucks.

Fair trade is one of the most practical and successful approaches to ending poverty in rural communities: It ensures that farmers and the people who actually produce the goods we consume have access to accurate market prices and are able to unionize to combat the wage-suppressing forces of multinational corporations.

To learn more about how fair trade coffee is impacting farmers in Ethiopia and worldwide, you can stream Black Gold on its official website for $5:


5) The Square

In a world that’s still living the aftermath of the Arab Spring and navigating difficult questions of what “democracy” means worldwide, a human perspective is often just what we need to understand the lives behind the statistics and news headlines.

This Netflix original documentary does just that in a flawlessly-crafted film that strives to balance different and dissenting voices while empathizing with several from up-close. Filmed on the ground at Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, The Square documents the two years of struggles and sit-ins by the same different factions of Egyptian society that have continued to alternate between collaboration and antagonization since the start of the conflict.

For a documentary that inspires human empathy without distracting from the issues at the heart of an ongoing global struggle, you can watch The Square on Netflix.


6) The End of Poverty

Despite its idealistic name, The End of Poverty takes an enlighteningly rational and pragmatic approach to the why and how of poverty, as well as to how we fix it.

Tracing its history from colonial conquest to modern trade, The End of Poverty illuminates how the policies of many world governments and the actions of global financial institutions affect drinking water in rural areas and a factory worker’s ability to earn a livable wage. Best of all, where so many others fail to go beyond diagnosing the problem, The End of Poverty ends with a series of practical and achievable goals for establishing a global system that works for everyone.

For a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of world poverty then and now, you can watch The End of Poverty for free at Top Documentary Films.


Awareness is just the first step.


*Featured image: Egyptian activist Ahmed Hassan in Jehane Noujaim’s documentary THE SQUARE. Courtesy of Noujaim Films.