We’ve seen them play path-breaking characters on screen, watched them break records and sing their hearts outs during concerts. These are the greats whose consistent hard work, creativity, and compassion made them pop-culture icons. Their stories reflect passion, give a peek into their lives—their struggles and choices—and inspire. From Robin Williams’ Robin’s Wish to Sona Mohapatra’s Shut Up Sona, here’s a list of documentaries that take us through the ups, downs and everything in between of the lives of these icons.
One of the first Robin Williams movies I recall watching is Mrs Doubtfire. It was hilarious, warm, and charming. The next one, Dead Poets Society, was completely different, incredible nonetheless. Known for his comedic timing and par-excellent improvisational skills, Robin Williams played versatile characters with conviction. Robin’s Wish, a 2020 documentary directed by Tylor Norwood, gives us a glimpse into the life and final days of the actor. It focuses on the impact of DLB (Dementia with Lewy Bodies) on Williams’ career and personal life, which ended by suicide. The documentary includes interviews with his wife Susan Williams, Shawn Lewy (who directed the Night at the Museum series) and other significant people in his life. Norwood’s aim was to make people “understand the pain (Williams) felt as his talents and faculties rapidly slipped away.”
Shut Up Sona
Directed by filmmaker Deepti Gupta, Shut Up Sona is a mind-blowingly witty documentary that gives an insight into the unapologetic artist that Sona Mohapatra is. Described as a quirky, tongue-in-cheek take on the singer’s fight for gender equality in modern India, the documentary is brimming with lessons galore. Through live performances, brash tweets, and much-needed conversations, they show us the long-standing inequality in music since the time of Meera. Sona Mohapatra doesn’t miss an opportunity to voice her opinions and is little scared of the consequences (rightly so). We’d definitely recommend watching this one for a new take on an age-old issue.
Untold: Caitlyn Jenner
Caitlyn Jenner has had quite a journey as a reality TV star, an athlete, and a politician. This hour-long documentary is part of Untold, a docu-series on Netflix covering the life stories of various people. It takes us to where it all started—from winning a medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and becoming a husband, father and reality TV star with the Kardashian family, to undergoing sex change. Jenner, who is the primary narrator in the documentary, repeatedly uses the line, “A distraction from who I am.” The line was said in reference to nearly all of her life’s experiences that perhaps hindered her from discovering her true self.
Directed by Amanda Micheli and released in 2022, Halftime is a documentary following the journey of actor and singer Jennifer Lopez up to the Super Bowl Halftime show, where she performed with Shakira. Lopez gets candid about issues such as racism, how she faced challenges because of her identity, the challenges of being in the spotlight, and the constant battle to create a space of her own in a largely unaccepting industry. The documentary reflects Lopez’s passion, dedication, and undying love for her work.
If you grew up watching the 2000’s Disney Channel shows like I did, then this documentary, starring the Jonas Brothers, is a bitter-sweet and charming reminder of the good old days. The documentary, directed by John Taylor, begins in their childhood home. It gives a sneak peek into their family, their parents' struggle to make ends meet, and how, despite it all, the family gave immense importance to love, joy, and kindness. It goes on to follow the journeys of Nick, Kevin, and Joe who formed a band, played for their church, starred in their own show on Disney Channel (Jonas), and went on to create a niche for themselves. It includes interviews with the brothers’ parents, contemporaries, and mentors, and will leave you feeling warm, nostalgic, and inspired.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry
The World’s a Little Blurry follows the story of 21-year-old (then 19) American singer, songwriter and pop sensation Billie Eilish. Directed by RJ Cutler, the documentary exudes a homely vibe and should be on your watch list. It gives a glimpse into Eilish’s childhood, her perception of the songs she makes, what inspires her to make them, and her rise to immense fame and success after the release of Ocean Eyes in 2016 at the age of 13. It sheds light on Eilish’s mental health and Tourettes Syndrome. With insights from her brother, parents, and some of the industry’s most famous artists, the documentary is brimming with inspiring lessons.
The Last Dance
The Last Dance is a ten-part docu-series that revolves around the career of basketball legend, Michael Jordan. The series focuses on his time with the Chicago Bulls and features unseen footage from the 97-98 season, his final season with the team. The series also includes interviews with eminent NBA personalities such as Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Phil Jackson. Sports documentaries often have a way of shedding light on themes such as mental health and personal growth apart from the sports, which can inspire many.
Lead Image: Sona Mohapatra Instagram and Pinterest