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March 11, 2015 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I am working on diversifying my pop culture experience and am feeling limited by what Netflix thinks I should watch. Please recommend some of your favorite movies, TV shows, and documentaries streaming on Netflix that would help me expand my pop culture diet - especially if they are directed by/acted by/about women, people of color, and people outside the upper middle class New York/LA milieu.
posted by ChuraChura to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Tons of pop culture references here!!) and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (Set in 1920's Australia about a lady detective) are two shows streaming on Netflix that I could watch from now until infinity and be pleased as punch about.
posted by midnightstorms at 11:17 AM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is funny and has a lot of heart. It's streaming on Netflix now.
posted by cross_impact at 11:21 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

We Are The Best!, a wonderful Swedish film about young girls starting a punk band in 1982.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2015 [10 favorites]

Kai Po Che, a Bollywood film about cricket and Hindu/Muslim riots in Gujarat is available on Netflix in the foreign films section.
posted by tinymegalo at 11:28 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, any Star Trek, and Xena, you will gain a million pop culture points and will also be kept busy well into next year. All available on Netflix!
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:30 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if it's on Netflix, but I loved the short-lived series on HBO, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (based on the series of books). It's so different from what we are exposed to on TV these days and uplifting/powerful from a women of color perspective. Jill Scott plays the lead and she is thoroughly delightful. It's just charming to the core.
posted by cecic at 11:37 AM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you're not looking for a radical departure, the first season of Being Mary Jane is streaming on Netflix. It's about the romantic, work and family travails of an upper-middle-class black woman in Atlanta. It's produced by Mara Brock Akil, who also did Girlfriends and The Game, which I also enjoyed. It looks like The Game is also on Netflix: it's about a medical student who has to contend the world of professional football and its hangers on after her college boyfriend starts playing for the NFL.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:39 AM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations so far! I didn't want to limit things too much from the outset, but I just wanted to pop in to say that I have consumed a lot of truly popular (or geekily popular, I guess) culture including all things Joss Whedon, much of Star Trek, Gilmore Girls, Friday Night Lights, X-Files, Orange is the New Black, Community, Parks & Rec, etc. (and I've already binge-watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). I'd love to hear more recommendations along the Swedish Punk Band lines!
posted by ChuraChura at 11:39 AM on March 11, 2015

Oh! Oh! One of my favorite things from last year was The Returned, a creepy, visually stunning French TV series about a small mountain town where people mysteriously start coming back from the dead. Apparently one of the American networks is currently running a very, very literal English-language remake, but I would check out the French original, because it's great.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:42 AM on March 11, 2015 [8 favorites]

Orphan Black.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:54 AM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Oh oh oh, you need to watch Bomb Girls. Right right now. It focuses on the lives of factory workers in Toronto in--I want to say starting in 1944, so before Pearl Harbor to start but after Canada was entering munitions. Beautifully written, the acting is amazing, lots of social classes turn up, human characterizations--the first season is a bit white but they do a little better on that in the second season. I have been warned not to watch the third season/movie, so take that as you will.

Seriously, it is amazing. If you like Orange Is the New Black you'll probably like it fine. I have Call the Midwife on my list for similar reasons, but as I haven't got round to watching it yet I don't quite have a particularly good recommendation--just, I've heard nice things and it centers on a cast of mostly women.
posted by sciatrix at 12:18 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ugh, I hate that everything I can think of only qualifies because of white women or LGBT characters. Hollywood is the worst.

Wetlands - a squirm-inducing and hilarious German comedy about a teenage girl who is not grossed out by anything. ANYTHING.

The United States of Tara - Showtime original created by Diablo Cody (Juno & Jennifer's Body screenwriter), all three seasons are on Netflix. Focuses on a family struggling to cope with the mother's severe mental illness; also includes multiple queer relationships.

GBF - It actually stars an actor from United States of Tara. Really corny teen comedy about three girls cribbed straight from the Mean Girls reject bin fighting to win the main character as their "gay best friend." Makes fun of the GBF stereotype and has a cute message about being true to yourself, but it's not very deep or brilliant, just fun. You'll recognize Natasha Lyonne from OITNB.

Blue is the Warmest Color - I've only read the comic, which was a bummmmmmmmerrrrrrr. Maybe this, then GBF to cheer yourself up.

But I'm a Cheerleader - I was a queer teen girl in the nineties. I taped this movie off IFC and watched it 5,000,000 times. Again, you'll recognize Natasha Lyonne from OITNB. Probably the origin of Cleo DuVall being every lesbian's ideal babe.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:20 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Just because I don't see it listed yet: 30 Rock.
posted by General Malaise at 12:23 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dark Girls
posted by MsMolly at 12:33 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Show Me Love is an beautiful Swedish film about a teenage lesbian, from the same director as We Are the Best!
posted by Chenko at 12:41 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Came in here to recommend Black Girl by Ousmane Sembene; dismayed to see that after literally years of Netflix Instant availability it seems to have disappeared relatively recently.

Checking my list ...
Whores' Glory?
Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz?
The Edge of Heaven?
Lake Bell's In a World ...?
Citizen Ruth!
Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank?
Recent Oscar nominee from Poland Ida?
Short Term 12?

I haven't seen Whores' Glory or In a World yet, but I think the rest of those are pretty good, with strong/interesting female characters.

Lot of different directions you could go with this.
posted by Mothlight at 12:45 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Fall
Peaky Blinders
The Bletchley Circle
Happy Valley
posted by Ideefixe at 1:02 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

For "outside the middle class millieau," I found My Name Is Earl surprisingly enjoyable. It's not about what I imagined it to be about (I imagined it was about an addict doing whatever step is about apologizing). It's not high art by any stretch, but it's a fun watch.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:28 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know if it's still available on Netflix or not, because things come and go, but probably the best expansion of my horizons I've found on Netflix was Viva Riva!, a rather gritty (if sex and violence are an issue for you) crime thriller set in Kinshasa.

It's got the basic crime thriller tropes: gangsters and femme fatales, a highly valuable macguffin that everybody wants, etc. So I could relate to it readily enough. But setting the whole thing in the underworld of a modern African megacity made it all feel very fresh and surprising. Highly recommended.
posted by Naberius at 1:52 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

For movies, I'd suggest you watch some of the series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, with Mark Cousins. It's a history of film from a more inclusive perspective than you usually see, so you don't just get the standard Hollywood white guy fare. I've been very slowly working my way through the series, then adding things that interest me as I go along. Netflix only has a smallish subset of the featured movies, and they don't seem to have an automated way to add them after the show, so you just have to dig around. IME, Netflix has been getting actually worse at diversity recently, so it's usually pretty slim pickings, but you can find a few. (Wikipedia does have listings of the movies from the series, so you don't need to write them down as you go along.)

I could recommend stuff I've enjoyed, but tastes are different enough that unless you specify a specific genre or style or something, recommendations are kind of useless.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:32 PM on March 11, 2015

20 Feet from Stardom, which is about backup singers, was pretty good.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 2:55 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

I really like Equilibrium. Taye Diggs plays one of the bigger supporting roles. The plot is pretty simple: after World War 3, emotions became illegal to keep mankind from ever getting in another war. Every citizen takes medication every day to keep them feeling neutral. Christian Bale's character is charged with arresting 'sense offenders' to have them executed. Then one day he stops taking his medication...
posted by tacodave at 3:01 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is hard in a "Don't think about pink elephants" sort of way, but here's a few:

The Namesake, about an Indian woman who comes to the US for an arranged marriage, and her children, and assimilation and culture and so forth
Little Mosque on the Prairie, a Canadian sitcom about a mosque on the Canadian prairie and the many and various ways of being Muslim in Canada
Aliens in America, which ran for one season, about a Pakistani exchange student in Wisconsin
State of Grace, about a Jewish girl whose family moves to North Carolina and her Catholic BFF, set against the Civil Rights era. Ran for a criminally-underappreciated 2 seasons and I still say "Happy Yom Kippur, y'all!" like this is a pop culture reference everyone will get. Stars Mae Whitman and Alia Shawkat.
The Fosters, currently on ABC family, about a mixed-race lesbian couple and their five teenaged children of various races and fostering statuses

also Happy Endings because it's hilarious and this is the year of Penny.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:04 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is making me realize how homogenous my Netflix stream is, yikes.

I can definitely recommend 20 Feet From Stardom, that was a great doc.
posted by radioamy at 4:20 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

+1 on the Returned. Great creepy vibe on that show, like Twin Peaks meets early Lost.

I really enjoyed Top of the Lake, has some very strong female characters. Stars Elisabeth Moss (from Mad Men), and Holly Hunter has a small, unforgettable role as a kind of feminist guru, with an all-female entourage. Created by Jane Campion, and set in New Zealand.

The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, Extended Edition was very good.
posted by Bron at 5:40 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Watch any K-drama? Coffee Prince and Boys Over Flowers are on Netflix, though if you really want to see what all of Asia went insane over, I'd check out My Love From the Star on Hulu.
posted by peripathetic at 5:45 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Big re-endorsement for Top of the Lake.
posted by Mothlight at 6:22 PM on March 11, 2015

Babette's Feast springs to mind.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:23 PM on March 11, 2015

I recommend this double feature to anyone:

EXCELLENT doc Reel Injun, about Hollywood's history portraying Indians/Native Americans/ First Nations peoples, and their relationships with film
FOLLOWED BY the feel-great Smoke Signals, an entirely Native American production with one of the most unforgettable and unique characters I've ever seen (if you watch, please let me know if you don't just adore Thomas!)
posted by kapers at 7:41 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

if you watch, please let me know if you don't just adore Thomas!

Second, second, a thousand times second! Thomas is AMAZING and oh my gosh I want to go watch this movie all over again now. Also Reel Injun, which is fabulous.
posted by sciatrix at 8:53 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Paris is Burning. it was directed by Jennie Livingston in the mid-to-late 1980s, and is a phenomenal portrait of the ball culture in NYC and the mostly queer/trans of color members of the community. Watch it, love it, practice vogueing in your living room. It was recently remastered so you'll want to watch the new print when it's available but go watch the slightly grainy version that is available now.

I'm going to watch it again now too!
posted by barnone at 9:45 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ken Burns' Prohibition was one of the most enlightening and engaging things I've watched over the last year, and deals heavily with turn of the century women's issues.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 9:37 AM on March 12, 2015

Orphan Black
The Bletchley Circle
posted by linder6 at 1:25 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Last Tango in Halifax
posted by jindc at 6:10 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Obvious Child! It's basically similar plot to Knocked Up but much funnier, smarter, more realistic, and feminist. You know that feeling where you don't realize how badly you're craving some under-represented experience in pop culture until you see it represented? This movie gives me that feeling. Written & directed by Gillian Robespierre. It is pretty white, and set in the NYC milieu though.
posted by aka burlap at 6:10 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh...and absolutely brutal, but brilliant:

Manuscripts Don't Burn
posted by jindc at 6:21 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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