April marks the start of a new monthly column on here on Den of Geek where we highlight noteworthy documentaries. Readers can expect handpicked documentaries that will hopefully make them think, reflect, and consider perspectives different than their own.
I personally seek out documentaries to vicariously experience people in situations that are interesting, frightening, uplifting and educational from the comfort of my living room sofa.
Who hasn’t wanted to be recognized for personal and professional achievements? How many of us have had sleepless night because of unanswered questions? Why aren’t there more daily heroes for the voiceless? These questions and a few more are answered in different ways in the films.
For more Netflix suggestions, check out our Netflix Pick of the Week.
A film by an undocumented American
Documented tells the story of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino native, who lived as an undocumented immigrant for over twenty years. He is one of the eleven million undocumented immigrants in the United States who contribute to society, pay their taxes, and above all else want to be an American.
It’s through no fault of his own that he ended up in his predicament, as with others who through various methods arrived in the United States to pursue the American Dream. His story is the same yet different from the others in the documentary because he outed himself an undocumented if only to figure out the process of becoming a legalized resident or eventual citizen.
He wanted to become a beacon for those can’t speak up for themselves because they were terrified of physical violence, loss of employment and especially deportation. He used his considerable media and social connections to launch a visibility campaign.
I think we all have known an undocumented immigrant either at work or school in the last five or ten years. Unless a person is a Native American, she/he can’t lay solo claim to being an American. What is American other than having been born in the country? America has always been the destination of choice the world over for those seeking political asylum, education, employment and pursuing their version of the American Dream.
This documentary stood out because it put a face to an issue that most legal, documented Americans don’t think often think about. In cities large and small, the demographics have changed over the last twenty or thirty years. There are countless people in every city who live in obscurity in ethnic enclaves who have made this country better because of their presence. They have changed the fabric and complexion of American life. The average American is unaware and probably doesn’t care how complicated it is to become a legal resident. The documentation and years of waiting is enough to deter many people from beginning the process.
In many cases, it’s not about living off the American taxpayer; living in the United States is heads and shoulders above living in their homeland. The documentary toggles between the Philippines with his relatives that remain there, his adopted California and various states as Jose travels around the country speaking on and about immigrants’ desires and reasons for being documented, accepted and recognized. The underlying themes in this film are identity, courage and solidarity among those behind the scenes and at forefront of immigrant rights.
A film by Bryan Tucker
Angela Tucker, one of several adopted children in the Bert family of Bellingham, Washington, sets out twenty-five years later to find her biological parents. It is an interesting documentary that taps into viewer emotions and tugs on the heart strings. The adoptive parents are white and Angela is African American. Over the course of several years, they either foster or adopt a multicultural group of normal and special needs babies and young children after having committed to only having one natural child.
We’re guided through the documentary by Angela’s husband, Bryan, the filmmaker and director. He wanted to make sense of his wife’s request and subsequent investigation into her Chattanooga, TN, origins. It wasn’t enough to have other adopted African American siblings and loving parents, Angela needed to find her birth parents and ask why they gave her up.
The beauty of documentaries is that they’re written, directed and polished. I’d love to see the outtakes and the director’s reel for this film because of the size and demographics of the family. Is it particularly important that the Berts are wealthy and extremely liberal? I’d say yes because most adoptive parents wouldn’t and don’t make documentaries of one of their adopted children’s journey into the unknown.
The biological family members in Tennessee were memorable, and Angela initially reconnected with one of her birth parents. The other parent wanted nothing to do with her and newfound rainbow family.
Angela’s research panned out and people were happy more so than not. The decision to relinquish custody to a child is easier for some birth mothers and fathers because they know instinctively that they can’t support and nurture a child. The documentary hit most of the right notes, but most adoption stories aren’t neatly tied up and happy.
A film by Dawn Porter
Travis, Brandy and June represent some of the poorest of the poor in Georgia and Mississippi. Most public offenders routinely juggle one hundred plus clients at one time. The insider’s view of the American legal system is eye-opening. The trouble is that each state’s law and mandatory prison time differs. You watch this documentary and hope never to have to rely on a public offender. They’re truly champions for those whose original indictments are overturned, or they’re remanded to trail, and found not guilty.
Travis is a no nonsense public offender who’s made it his personal mission to save as many underserved defendants in his county despite having little to no resources.
Most law school graduates don’t beat down the door to the public defender’s office. This is a job a person must want to do because the majority of lawyers opt for corporate law with six figure salaries, fancy cars and large homes.
Brandy’s a big sister or best friend you’d want in your corner. She enjoys what she does even in the face of death threats from clients, hair loss and near physical collapse. I think she’s destined to do this type of work.
June’s a single mother who has mixed emotions about being a public defender in light of her growing pile of student loan notices. She cares for her clients as much as Travis and Brandy do, but they’re single with no dependents, and perhaps can postpone repayment of their loans.
Public defenders need a support network because only they can understand and sympathize with each other when it routinely feels as if there’s no light at the end of many of their cases. The job weighs on young lawyers who aren’t always equipped to handle the workload and emotional turmoil. Those who break or almost break, go into private practice or join a firm.