5 Documentaries That Go Deep on Key Issues in the 2020 Election
In the excitement of registering for your first election, newly minted voters often overlook one crucial detail: You have to do your homework before you go to the polls. And many of the issues -- such as reforming America's criminal justice system, for example -- are pretty complex.
To get up to speed fast, look no further than your streaming service. Documentaries that explore topics related to the 2020 election -- including climate change, college debt, and the U.S. economy -- provide serious food for thought. Plus, they can highlight ideas that are important to you but often get lost in political rhetoric.
Of course, many documentaries have an agenda -- and the ones below are no exception. Use them as one source of information as you gather data to inform your vote.
Climate change: This Changes Everything
Unlike the dry or doomsday approaches that many climate change documentaries take, This Changes Everything is riveting, thoughtful, and hopeful. It's focused on the real people involved in global grassroots movements inspired by the climate crisis. It also looks at the economic systems that got us to where we are today, providing a 360-degree view of the debate. Young people especially have rallied around a need for change. This movie suggests that the world can use the threat of crisis to band together and improve both economic and environmental situations at the same time.
Economy: Saving Capitalism
Understanding modern American economics isn't a small task, but Saving Capitalism provides a thorough and easy-to-follow explanation of how the current political climate affects, and is affected by, economic inequality. It follows former Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he travels around the United States talking to people about how the widening gap between rich and poor has affected their lives. Although Reich is an outspoken Democrat, the filmmakers do a good job of making sure that a variety of backgrounds and political points of view are accounted for.
Gun control: The Armor of Light
It's impossible to ignore the epidemic of mass shootings, especially those affecting schools and young people, but this documentary frames the issue from a new perspective. The Armor of Light tells the story of a conservative evangelical minister who changes his views to support gun control after speaking to the family of a victim of gun violence. While it can feel that people are rigidly polarized along political party lines, this movie proves that stances on the issues don't always need to fall neatly into one party platform or the other.
Higher education: Ivory Tower
According to this film, the cost of college has risen faster than that of any other product or service in the American economy. So it's no wonder students are taking on more and more debt to pay for it. By looking at the business side of higher education, Ivory Tower addresses the fact that learning might not be the highest priority of universities and questions whether college is even worth it. While the film does a good job of outlining how we got to where we are, it doesn't necessarily offer a clear solution. For that, you'll have to listen to the 2020 candidates' ideas for how to fix it.
Racial justice: 13th
Race is an issue that is deeply personal and that has widespread effects in American culture and institutions. Few documentaries can so clearly and profoundly illustrate this as Ava Duvernay's 13th. By looking back at slavery and Jim Crow, Duvernay draws a direct line from America's past to the present systems of mass incarceration, police brutality, and racial injustice. And since criminal justice reform is an issue that both Democrats and Republicans are trying to solve, this provocative film is useful viewing on both sides of the aisle.
Want to dig deeper?
Here are more documentaries that cover other hot-button issues in the 2020 election.
- Abortion: Hush
- Corruption: Dark Money
- Gerrymandering: Slay the Dragon
- Global trade: American Factory
- Immigration: The Deported
- Misinformation and propaganda: Merchants of Doubt
- Opioid epidemic: Recovery Boys
- Sexual harassment: Anita: Speaking Truth to Power
- Terrorism and war: City of Ghosts
- Transgender rights: The Most Dangerous Year
For even more resources to help navigate election season, visit our Young Voter's Guide to Social Media and the News.