5 Netflix Documentaries (Will Make You Too Angry To Chill)
I'm a big fan of documentaries. They are far and away my favorite thing to watch. Why? Because I love information. I'll take all of it I can get. However, the best documentaries go beyond just teaching you something you didn't know before; they also make you feel something. Among all the available emotions, my favorite is anger, so it's only natural that my preferred brand of documentary is the kind that makes you mad. The kind that makes Netflix recommend watching March Of The Penguins next, because it knows how pissed off you must be right now. That's my shit. We talk about a few examples on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Danielle Soto and Cracked editor Tom Reimann. I'm also going to talk about a few right now. Watch them later! Tell me what you thought of them in the comments section! I'll never read it! Nevertheless, here are five infuriating documentaries you should watch tonight.
Small Potatoes: Who Killed The USFL?
Hey, while I have you on the line, let's talk about Donald Trump! He did just lock down the GOP presidential nomination in all but the most technical sense, so I reckon he's newsworthy enough right now to merit a mention. And since the next logical step is him running the entire country, it's fitting that we start off by talking about a documentary that offers an advance look at what happens when Donald Trump starts making important decisions.
The ESPN "30 for 30" series has produced some of the most compelling sports documentaries ever, and Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? is, in my opinion, among the best of that great collection of work.
It tells the story of the United States Football League, which lasted three seasons (1983 to 1985) as an upstart competitor to the almighty NFL.
Years of planning went into bringing the league to life. A man named David Dixon first had the idea way back in 1967. He laid out a strategy for building and expanding the league, and then set about finding investors willing to put money behind making it a success. You know, exactly how a business works.
Problems arose almost immediately, but the USFL did experience some success, especially when it came to attracting talent. Their most notable achievement was luring three straight Heisman Trophy winners (Herschel Walker, Mike Rozier, and Doug Flutie) away from the NFL right out of college. Several eventual NFL legends -- like Jim Kelly, Steve Young, and Reggie White -- all started their professional football careers in the USFL as well. Sure, the league lost a shit-ton of money every year they were in existence, but progress was being made.
Enter Donald Trump. After the league's inaugural season, he became owner of the New Jersey Generals franchise.
Should've been called the Commanders. Ha! Get it? Because he'll be Commander In Chief soon! Please kill me!
Almost immediately, he set about changing the one thing that allowed the USFL to somewhat succeed. You see, for those first three seasons, the league played in the Spring, so as to not have to unnecessarily compete with the NFL. Trump wanted that competition, thinking that it would force the NFL into a merger with the USFL. He was one of only two owners who thought it was a good idea initially, but in time, he got the rest of the league to agree.
Surprise! Turns out it was a terrible decision! Trump never got his merger, a frivolous lawsuit ensued, and the league vanished shortly thereafter. So if you're curious as to what Trump's track record is like when it comes to running things with the words "United States" in their name, let this documentary be your guide.
Of course, no discussion about Trump is complete if it doesn't immediately segue into something about people in this country illegally. If you're the type who gets worked up about that kind of thing, then boy do I have a documentary for you ...
Looking to lose all faith in the people responsible for keeping the children of the world safe and secure? Then by all means, give The Imposter a watch sometime. If you're one of those Trump supporters / xenophobes I mentioned in the previous entry, you probably now think I'm going to say this is a documentary about an illegal immigrant who came to the United States to kill kids. You're wrong, and almost certainly super-duper racist. Instead, The Imposter tells the story of a man with an extremely weird obsession. To put it as plainly as possible, he enjoyed tracking down parents who'd reported a missing child and then he would claim to be that missing child.
One particular case is at the center of this documentary. It starts in Spain, with him convincing police that he's just escaped kidnappers who'd used him as a sex slave for the past few years -- a ploy that quickly results in him living with a family in San Antonio, TX, pretending to be a relative who'd gone missing three years earlier at the age of 13. I know, it sounds like movie shit, and like any good movie, that's not even the most interesting part.
"Ma'am, has your son always dressed like a man playing a French terrorist in a movie?"
Hell, it's not even the most infuriating part. That award goes to the baffling series of oversights and mistakes that led to him being able to take the scam that far in the first place. For starters, he refuses to tell police in Spain his name. When they push him on it, he says if they let him sleep in an office overnight, he'll probably remember in the morning ... and they just fucking go for it! That's it. The documentary could've ended there. It could've been called "The Guy Who Scammed His Way Into Sleeping In a Spanish Police Office Overnight" and I'd have been plenty riveted by the details up that point. But it gets so much crazier.
Unsurprisingly, he uses his overnight office time to come up with the identity of a missing kid he can steal. For him, that's the good news. The bad news is that the kid looks absolutely nothing like him -- a problem complicated all the more by the fact that the scammer is in his 20s, but opted to steal the identity of a 16-year-old.
Oh, also their eyes are completely different colors. Yet Spanish authorities accept his story and he makes his way to San Antonio.
I still haven't told you the craziest part, and in the name of not spoiling it, I won't. To give you some idea, though, just know that, despite the glaring differences between him and their lost boy, the family welcomes him with open arms, even after the FBI tells them they shouldn't. Now ... why would they do such a thing? That's the question this documentary truly attempts to answer. The conclusion they eventually come to will ruin your day. Enjoy!
The Galapagos Affair
OK, I promise this is the last Trump reference, but do you know how people like to vocally fantasize about fleeing the country if Trump gets elected? Well, The Galapagos Affair is a stark reminder that no matter how far you go, the worst parts of the world you live in will inevitably find you.
Another mandatory talking point when it comes to Trump is Hitler, so it's appropriate that the couple who kick off this documentary were looking to flee the sad state of German society in 1929. The Fuhrer wasn't quite in power by that point, but he was getting there. In what should've been one of the most prescient examples of foresight of all time, Friedrich Ritter and his lover, Dore Strauch decided to make their way to the Galapagos Islands to carve out a life for themselves on the previously uninhabited island of Floreana.
Wait, so they weren't even on the island yet in this photo?
It was a fine idea on paper, but the plan fell apart when the media got wind of their adventures. Hearing tales of the "Adam and Eve of the Galapagos" inspired countless others to follow in their, um, boat ... steps. By "countless" I actually just mean "like between five and ten," but that was more than enough to inspire full-fledged war.
At one point, an elderly woman shows up with a harem of young lovers and declares herself "Empress of Floreana." Shockingly, she's not even the craziest person on the island -- a fact that becomes overwhelmingly obvious when she does turn out to be one of the most probably-murdered people on the island. Two people go missing, actually. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but when the entire population of your island is less than 20, it's a pretty big deal. So if you're planning to escape Trump's America by fleeing to an uninhabited island to live with a bunch of "like-minded" individuals, may this documentary serve as a compelling argument against that plan.
Fine, that's enough about Trump. Let's move on to a slightly less contentious topic ...
The Central Park Five
Let's talk about the police! Crime documentaries about innocent people who were wrongly incarcerated are all the rage right now. If you watch enough of them, you'll notice there's one thing that happens in almost every single one: At some point, someone is going to confess to a crime they almost certainly didn't commit. People who refuse to acknowledge that police wrongdoing is even a thing, despite years of video and rap album evidence to the contrary, love to lean on that one point. Why would an innocent person confess to something they didn't do?
Well, it's because they get talked into it. Coerced confessions are the lifeblood that keeps the "Holy shit, let's try to get this innocent person out of prison" industry booming. They are the entire reason the state of Illinois abolished the death penalty (more on that later). They are literally why documentaries like The Central Park Five exist.
Centered around one of the most notorious and widely-publicized crimes of the '80s, The Central Park Five is a case study how terribly the justice system goes awry when police start tricking people into saying things they shouldn't in the name of "solving" a case. The five individuals in question were all minors, which didn't stop the police from releasing their names to the public well before they were even charged with any actual crimes. No worries, though, because in short order, all five had either confessed to a heinous crime or been implicated by the rest of their friends in said crime.
Yeah, they gave vastly different accounts of what happened, which should raise a red flag in a just society. Unfortunately, we're talking about the NYPD in the '80s. Being fair wasn't really their thing. I doubt it was any police force's "thing" prior to the invention of camera phones. Don't fret, though, because this documentary does have a happy ending ... provided you consider years of undue incarceration that leads to a multi-million-dollar settlement with the city of New York a happy ending.
The police certainly didn't.
I'm leaving a lot of details out, because my ultimate aim here is to compel you to watch these documentaries, as opposed to completely spoiling them for you. So give this one a watch sometime and fill yourself with the righteous fury of a third-year college student working for the Innocence Project. Then watch this next one and understand that, sometimes, those people who claim to be interested in helping are total monsters too.
A Murder In The Park
Remember when I mentioned Illinois abolishing the death penalty in the last entry? A Murder In The Park is why I brought it up. The Chicago PD's longstanding policy of coercing (sometimes with words, sometimes worse) false confessions out of people brought the state a lot of unfortunate attention. The case at the center of A Murder In The Park is the one that finally tipped the scales and prompted then-Governor George Ryan to end the death penalty once and for all in Illinois.
In 1982, a couple was shot and killed in a park in Chicago. Eyewitness testimony sent a man named Anthony Porter to death row for the crime. That would've been the end of it, if not for the Northwestern Illinois University Innocence Project. Spearheaded by a professor named David Protess and his team of journalism students, the group sought out questionable cases in the hopes of setting wrongly convicted people free. Somehow, they landed on the case of Anthony Porter.
In time, they revealed that the eyewitness who sealed Porter's fate not only recanted his testimony, but wouldn't have even been able to see what he claimed he saw from the spot he was standing in when the crime occurred, due to several obstructions that would have blocked his line of sight. Even better, they had a man named Alstory Simon on video confessing to the crime. That video was made public, and without doing even a cursory review of the circumstances that led to that confessions, the state released Porter a few days later and commenced building a case against Simon.
Here's the problem: Anthony Porter was almost certainly guilty. It wasn't one eyewitness who testified to seeing Porter commit the crime; there were five. Only one of them "recanted" their testimony, and it eventually came to light that it was more like the Innocence Project said, "Is it possible you were wrong?" and he was like, "Yeah, I guess anything is possible." None of the other witnesses took back their testimony, but it's not like they could have if they wanted to, because the students didn't bother interviewing the other witnesses. Oh, and the obstructions which they claimed would've prevented the witness from seeing the crime weren't even in place at the time of the murders.
Stupid '90s millennials.
So how on Earth did they get an innocent man to confess to this crime? Easy! They coerced a confession out of him! If you're picturing a duo of college sophomores going good cop / bad cop on a potential murderer, I'd invite you to kindly get your head out of the movies. They didn't do it; instead, they sent a Chicago-based private investigator named Paul Ciolino to do the job. He all but admits on camera that he used the exact same tactics the Chicago PD became notorious for using to compel innocent people to implicate themselves in crimes they didn't commit. His most famous quote about the interrogation is, "We just bull-rushed him, and mentally he couldn't recover." Hooray for justice!
Unfortunately, the story just gets exponentially sadder and more terrifying from there. I encourage you to watch the entire thing to get all the details for yourself. All that said, since we're on the topic of confessions, I have one of my own to make right now: Despite what the title of the column may imply, this particular documentary is not on Netflix. You'll have to steal someone's Showtime login details to watch it. Sorry.
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