You know it’s a good year for documentaries when two docs about the same subject stir up incredible buzz. 2019 is the year that brought us the competing Fyre Fest docs, as well as news-breaking investigations into pop stars R. Kelly and Michael Jackson, plus an unbelievable deep dive into alleged scammer Elizabeth Holmes. Here are the best documentaries of 2019 … so far.
While there have been reports of alleged abuse by late pop icon Michael Jackson for decades, in this two-part HBO documentary, two of his accusers share their emotional, detailed, and disturbing accounts. Wade Robson and James Safechuck met Jackson when they were 7 and 10, respectively, and they and their families open up to filmmaker Dan Reed about years of alleged sexual abuse in Leaving Neverland.
You could say one doc about the disaster that was the Fyre Festival would be enough—but you’d be wrong. In Fyre Fraud, the Hulu one, festival mastermind Billy McFarland sits down for an interview with the filmmakers who ask him point-blank about his lies and the crimes he committed to cover up the fact that the music festival he orchestrated was a poorly planned disaster. McFarland dodges nearly every question, but it’s still fascinating to watch him respond.
Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened
The Netflix version of events is a more sober look at the effects and aftermath McFarland and this festival had on ticket holders and the people in the Bahamas who helped put the event together. Plus, the Netflix film has the unforgettable interview with McFarland’s business partner, Andy King, who offered to go far and beyond the call of duty to get some boxes of Evian water bottles past customs.
Surviving R. Kelly
Like Jackson, there had been years of allegations against singer R. Kelly—even resulting in a trial. But in the Lifetime docu-series Surviving R. Kelly, filmmaker dream hampton speaks with the women who say they suffered abuse for years. In the case of the women still living with the singer, Hampton speaks with their family members, even filming one mother trying to convince her daughter to come home.
Ask Dr. Ruth
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
It’s impossible to look away from the story about Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of blood-testing technology company Theranos, who went from the tech industry’s darling to a pariah in just a matter of years, after it was discovered her company was faking medical test results. This HBO doc features interviews with those who saw the collapse first hand like whistleblower Tyler Schultz.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists
Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill were sometimes colleagues and sometimes competitors at New York City’s newspapers in the late 20th century. This HBO film is a nostalgic look at the heyday of print journalism through the lens of two of the industry’s greats.
The Black Godfather
This Netflix doc looks at the life of Clarence Avant, who grew up in the segregated south and went on to become a hugely influential music executive and film producer. Director Reginald Hudlin interviewed more than 75 people over three years. “There’s the power that needs the spotlight,” Barack Obama says of Avant, “and there’s the power behind the scenes.”
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
The court case involving the suicide of Conrad Roy marks a fascinating and tragic modern crime story. The two-part documentary directed by Erin Lee Carr follows the indictment and court case of Michelle Carter after she was found to have encouraged her long-distance boyfriend to kill himself, via text. The journey is unchartered territory and helped establish a precedent when it comes to technology and legal responsibility.
Senior Staff Writer Kate is a writer for Esquire covering culture, politics, style, and lifestyle.