Nov 2nd, 2021, 10:37 AM

Should Netflix Invest More in Human Rights Documentaries & Films?

By L'Oreal Threat
Image Credit: Unsplash
How Netflix Can Emerge Amongst the Competition by Focusing More on Human Rights Advocacy

Documentaries are one of the most effective ways to expose human rights exploitation and abuse. The on-screen trauma sticks to the psyche and, in many cases, becomes a catalyst for human rights advocacy education, reflection, and inspiration.

In 2014, Netflix signed a distribution deal for the documentary "E-Team," which profiled four Human Rights Watch researchers as they interviewed, witnessed, and gathered evidence of human rights violations in Kosovo, Syria, and Libya.  The documentary showcased the dedication and desire required to eliminate human rights abuses that occur worldwide.

Source: Netflix

The Netflix deal successfully created space for millions to witness and later discuss human rights violations with friends and family.  Indeed, when "E-Team" was released in 2014, Netflix's worldwide paid subscriber count was around 49 million. As a result, audience access for the documentary with Netflix was much larger than the original, small audience that viewed "E-Team" at the Human Rights Film Festival in New York.  As such, the documentary was given enormous exposure that it would not have had without Netflix.

Today, with Netflix's worldwide subscriber count at 213 million, the streaming-platform giant has an even larger ability to both expose human rights violations and advocate for justice.  By creating a stand-alone human rights advocacy category within its documentary section on its platform, producing documentaries and films that focus on human rights violations globally, and promoting human rights on its opening page, Netflix could separate itself from its competitors as a serious agent of change.

DisneyPlus, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video do not give human rights advocacy its own category under their documentary sections on their platforms.  Instead, documentaries based on human rights violations are typically bunched together with others with topics that range from classic cars to alien conspiracies.  Granted, more could be done by all video-streaming platforms to highlight human rights violations.  Therefore, it would be beneficial for Netflix to lead the charge.


To emerge as a leader amongst streaming services, Netflix should create a permanent category on its platform for human rights documentaries and films.  Netflix should also spotlight one new human rights documentary or film per week on its opening page.  In addition, to generate a continuous stream of content, Netflix should consider signing a distribution deal with an NGO such as the Human Rights Watch that would give Netflix access to documentaries and films that air at the annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Netflix should also work with other organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, and Amnesty International to acquire and produce new films and documentaries highlighting global human rights issues.

Consistent content generated from a thoughtful partnership with human rights organizations would also increase Netflix's chances of producing Oscar-winning documentaries.  Indeed, since Netflix can submit its content to the Oscars because of its 2020 purchase of the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, it now has a venue to screen its original projects.  As a result, if Netflix can hire award-winning talent to help produce great content, then Netflix would have a greater chance at increasing its reach within Hollywood and the world of human rights NGOs.


In an incredibly competitive marketplace where Netflix is soon expected to trail its biggest rival, Disney, Netflix needs all of the positive promotion and recognition that it can get.  At its current pace, Netflix is expected to lose most of the content for which it was initially known.  As more production studios create their own video-streaming apps, Netflix deals with the ongoing loss of popular content.  Such was the case when Netflix's $100 million licensing deal to air "Friends" expired in 2020, and the hit-TV show's owner WarnerMedia launched HBOMax, moving the show to its own platform.  Therefore, Netflix would be wise to add new original content to position itself as an attractive, cutting-edge, and progressive streaming platform.  Profit and morality do not have to be mutually exclusive. 

Ultimately, there are many other options that Netflix can take to edge out its competition for the #1 spot of video streaming.  However, one easy option is to make the world a better place by highlighting human rights on its platform, working with human rights NGOs, and consistently delivering messaging through cutting-edge stories.