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Sociology Through Documentary Film

This list was originally created by Jessie Daniels, PhD (Hunter College-CUNY).  Now that the list is a wiki, everyone is invited to create a login, update and add to the list.


The top-level of organization is that this list includes only documentary films, not feature films (if you're not sure of the difference, read this).  Please only add documentaries to this list.  


Following that, the films are organized first by category (roughly these categories correspond to some of the key concepts within the field of sociology).  Within each category, each sub-list of films is arranged from oldest to most recent.  If you add a film, please be sure to follow the organizational schema. 



When possible, the information about each film that's listed includes the following:  1) the year it was released, 2) a hyperlink to additional information about the film (ideally, a link to where the film can be ordered) and, 3) the director listed.  If you add a film, please be sure to add this information.

The Sociological Imagination

  • The Up Series (1964-2005). Directed by Michael Apted.  A sociological cross-section of children in England are interviewed about their hopes for the future.  The children are revisited every 7 years as they progress into adulthood.  Each film in the series is emotional and moving.  Currently concludes with 49 Up.
  • “49 Up.” (2005) Directed by Michael Apted.


Sociological Investigation / Research Methods / Research Ethics

  • “Obedience” (about Milgram experiments).
  • “Quiet Rage” (about Zimbardo experiments).
  • “The Deadly Deception” (1993) Directed by Denisce DiAnni. (Excellent documentary about the Tuskegee study, including interviews with men who were unwilling subjects of this study and doctors who conducted it, and others who objected to it.) Originally distributed by WGBH/ Films for the Humanities and Sciences. (Can be hard to locate, but worth questing for if your library doesn’t already own it.)
  • "The True Meaning of Pictures" (2002) Directed by Jennifer Baichwal.  A documentary about Shelby Lee Adams' controversial photos of families in Appalachia.
  • “The Human Behavior Experiments” (2006) Directed by Alex Gibney. (about both Milgram, Zimbardo and more contemporary examples, such as Abu Gharib). oyunlar1






Drugs: Addiction, Alcohol, Tobacco 


Drugs: Drug War


Ethnicity / Race

  • “True Colors.” (ABC, PrimeTime Live). Diane Sawyer and news crew stage what is basically a “matched study” experiment by pairing John, who is white, and Glen, who is black, and follow them with a series of hidden cameras with as they expose racism in a variety of settings.  Although old (early 1990s) and very short (just 19 minutes), if I could only show one film to a class about race in the U.S., I would choose this one. Available for purchase here.
  • "Grace Lee Project" (2005) Directed by Grace Lee.
  • Jessie Daniels maintains a separate, and more extensive, list of films about race and racism at RacismReview.
  • C.N. Le also maintains a separate and extensive list of documentaries about Asian Americans, organized by topic, at Asian-Nation.org
  • "Race: The Power of an Illusion" (2003) Directed by Larry Adelman. 






Family: Adoption & Surrogacy


Food, Water & Energy Industry


Genocide / War / Human Rights




Groups and Organizations


Health, Illness, Medicalization & the Business of Health Care




Law & Society


Media & Internet






Social Movements / Community Organizing


Sexuality / Gender




Self & Society


Social Stratification / Class Inequality





Visual Sociology


Work / Occupations



Youth / Deviance




Help Getting Started Teaching with Documentaries





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