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The Best Documentaries to Stream in 2023

Documentaries have been given new shine in the golden age of streaming, as supply meets the endless demand for deep dives into new worlds. 2023 is shaping up to be a great year for documentaries and docuseries, including many in the pop culture and fashion space. Just a few examples include Pamela, A Love Story, in which the sex symbol finally gets to tell her own story; a still-untitled film on the legacy of Marvel mastermind Stan Lee; a harrowing look at the dark side of sorority recruitment at southern universities with Bama Rush; and Pretty Baby, a nuanced look at the life and career of Brooke Shields.

Read on for W’s best documentaries of 2023 (so far).

Sometimes When We Touch

Release date: January 3

Where to stream: Paramount+

The oft-maligned subgenre of soft rock, also known in some circles as yacht rock, has its moment in the sun with Paramount+’s three-part docuseries. Artists such as Hall and Oates, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Lionel Richie, the Carpenters, and Captain & Tennille are all discussed in Sometimes When We Touch: The Reign, Ruin and Resurrection of Soft Rock. A blurb for the series notes that soft rock is “experiencing one of the most unlikely comebacks in music history.”

Break Point

Release date: January 13

Where to stream: Netflix

Netflix’s popular Drive to Survive series, which provided a behind-the-scenes look at Formula 1 racing, now takes viewers inside the highly competitive world of tennis. The docuseries, released just ahead of the 2023 Grand Slam season, follows athletes—including Nick Kyrgios, Iga Swiatek, Sloane Stephens, Frances Tiafoe, Casper Ruud, and Stefanos Tsitsipas—as they compete in the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.

The Price of Glee

Release date: January 16

Where to stream: Discovery+ (or on the ID channel at 9/8c)

During its six-year run, Ryan Murphy’s musical comedy Glee was rife with off-screen controversies and tragedies, including the eventual deaths of three major cast members, Cory Monteith (who died at 31 from a drug overdose in 2013), Mark Salling (who died by suicide in 2018), and Naya Rivera (who died at 33 in a drowning accident). ID’s The Price of Glee focuses on these three events, the effect they had on the cast and Glee community, and how fame may have contributed.

The 1619 Project

Release date: January 26

Where to stream: Hulu

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole-Hannah Jones hosts Hulu’s expansion of her “1619 Project,” originally created for The New York Times. The series, executive produced in part by Oprah Winfrey, seeks to reframe the history of the United States by examining the enduring legacy of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans.

Pamela, A Love Story

Release date: January 31

Where to stream: Netflix

When Hulu’s Pam & Tommy series premiered last year, it was rumored that Pamela Anderson herself was not thrilled with unauthorized retelling of her infamous 1990s sex-tape scandal with then husband Tommy Lee. Now the actress and activist gets the chance to share her story herself with Pamela, A Love Story, an intimate look at the trajectory of Anderson’s life and career from small-town girl to sex symbol.

Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence

Release date: February 9

Where to stream: Hulu

This three-part series investigates the story of Larry Ray, the father of a student who managed to coerce Sarah Lawrence College students into a “sex cult” on campus starting in 2010. The series features interviews from the students themselves, detailing what happened, how they survived, and how the experience continues to effect them.

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields

Release date: April 23rd

Where to stream: Hulu

Brooke Shields may have become known as “the face of the eighties” with Calvin Klein jean ads and leading roles in The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love, but even before that, the model and actor became the center of controversy at the age of 12 with her provocative performance in Louis Malle’s controversial 1978 film Pretty Baby. The Hulu documentary of the same name, directed by Lana Wilson (Miss Americana) and made in partnership with ABC News, takes a galvanizing look at Shields’ life and career from child model to her current day status as an American icon. Pretty Baby follows Shields’ story “as she transforms from a sexualized young girl to a woman discovering her power. Holding a mirror up to a society that objectifies women and girls, her story shows the perils and triumphs of gaining agency in a hostile world.”

Read W’s interview with Shields and Wilson here.

Love to Love You: Donna Summer

Release date: May 20th

Where to stream: HBO Max

Disco icon Donna Summer became famous for wildly popular songs like “She Works Hard For the Money” and the titular “Love to Love You Baby,” even becoming the first Black female artist to debut a music video on MTV. But like any great artist, there’s far more to Summer than the stage persona that the world has come to know and love. Love to Love You: Donna Summer combines Summers’ reflections )and lots of her archival, self-shot footage from over the years), the memories of close family, friends and colleagues and her own songs to take a look at Summers’ life and impact. Direct by Oscar and Emmy-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Summer’s daughter, Brooklyn Sudano, the film “provides a rich perspective on her complexity, talent, and the adversity she faced while examining the impact that fame can have on love, art and family.”

BAMA RUSH

Release date: Tuesday, May 23rd

Where to stream: HBO Max

If you’ve ever watched one of those spooky videos of identical-looking girls stacked up in a pyramid doing unison hand claps and cheers, this one is for you. The relatively insular world of sorority rushing was burst open for the world to see when videos of the high-pressure process went viral on TikTok in August of 2021, specifically at the University of Alabama. According to HBO Max, the streamer behind a new documentary about rushing, more than 2 billion people have watched #BamaRush content to date. HBO’s documentary, directed by filmmaker Rachel Fleit (Introducing, Selma Blair) follows four young women during sorority recruitment at U of A in the fall semester of 2022. The film “explores the emotional complexities and stakes of belonging in this crucial window into womanhood.”

Invisible Beauty

Release date: TBD

Where to stream: TBD

From Frédéric Tcheng, the director of 2019’s Halston comes another fashion documentary about model-turned-industry titan (and co-director of the film), Bethann Hardison. Invisible Beauty charts Hardison’s legendary life and career, especially her endless advocacy for diversity on and off the runway. The film, which premiered at Sundance and will also play at Tribeca, is filled with archival footage and interviews with fellow fashion heavy-hitters like Naomi Campbell, Iman and Zendaya, serving as both an nuanced look at Hardison’s impact and the fashion industry as a whole.

Nicki: A Six-Part Documentary Series

Release date: TBD

Where to stream: TBD

Nicki Minaj’s long-awaited documentary has been on fans’ minds since it was first announced in November 2020. The rapper shared a trailer for the six-part series on her Instagram in July 2022, promising that the revealing look at her life and career as an innovator of hip-hop was “coming sooner than you think.” Originally slated to premiere on HBO Max, the series has since been dropped by the streamer, but hopefully it will be coming to screens sometime this year. In the trailer for the series, Minaj talks about her experience handling fame, the unsupportive music industry, and how she “takes the art form of rap very seriously,” despite how little respect female rappers have historically been given.

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