Not the Outdoorsy Type? Netflix Documentaries to Binge on Memorial Day Weekend.

Smart Programming if You Choose to Stay Home

by Sebastian Fortino
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There might be 100 things you could do this weekend but, maybe staying home is more applealing. Maybe you’d rather curl up with your pets, your partner, or nobody else at all and catch up on TV. If you’re like many Portlanders, and have to pretend to be “outdoorsy” but aren’t at all, we’ve got you covered with what “smart televsion” to watch this weekend.


Wild Wild Country

If you are a native Oregonian, you’ve probably heard all about the Rashneeshee cult. In the early 1980s they attempted to take over a little town called Antelope in the Eastern part of the state. If you’re not native, you may have heard about the cult’s penchant for free love, Rolls Royce limosines, and...attempted murder. The cult had a presence in Portland, as well. They purchased a hotel on 11th Avenue which suffered a bombing at the hands of an Islamic fundamentalist.


Like all good documentaries, this one feels like a movie. The narrators all believe their version of events, of the story, is the truth. After 30 years, they are still passionate about what happened, what didn’t happen, and why their story matters.


The Rachel Divide

Rachel Dolezal, who has legally changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo, is a controversial figure to say the least. If you were puzzled by her story of claiming to be of African-American descent, then the backlash which came after she was “outed” as being white, “The Rachel Divide” brings about as many questions as it does answers. Her story offends people of color, and her coining of the term “transracial” is equally frustrating for the transgender community. The story has a connection to the Pacifc Northwest, as Ms. Diallo was employed in a key role by the NAACP of Spokane, Washington.


If you were hoping to have the riddle of the story solved by watching the film, you won’t. You will however find yourself perhaps a little bit more understanding of her story, but the questions remain and in fact grow.


The Death & Life of Marsha P. Johnson

The documentary came out last year, so you may have seen it or at least heard of it. The documentary follows the life of outspoken gay-liberation activist Marsha P. Johnson. A transgender woman of color, she was there at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. She was a part of three communities which, at that time were truly ignored by mainstream society in New York City. Through stock footage and interviews with her family and friends, transgender activist Victoria Cruz tries to solve the unfortunate case of her death.


Sometimes a documentary doesn’t answer all the questions. This is, sadly, one of those documentaries. However, the strength and fierce will of Ms. Johnson is something all LGBTQ+ people should celebrate and emulate.   



I wasn’t aware of this documentary until one evening, very late at night. I was hooked. The series follows the mysterious death of Frank Olson, who was working for the United States Military at the time. During Thanksgiving of 1953 he falls from the 10th floor of a hotel in New York. This leaves a family which will never fully recover. His son, now in his 70s, has been obsessed since losing his father at nine years-old. Sure, it’s another documentary, but the way in which the story is told is what is the most compelling here. The filmmakers splice interviews with reenactments portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard and, playing his wife, Molly Carter. Jimmi Simpson, who plays sinster rolls on the American Horror Story series also plays an equally sinister role. Veteran actor Bob Balaban also joins the cast. The reenactments, and the story itself, become an almost David Lynchean experience.


If you love AMC’s Mad Men, or Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock, this series will keep you on the edge of your seat. Netflix has great aptitude for soundtracks in their documentaries, and this one is no different. As questions remain unanswered, there could be a second series to come.


Evil Genius

Want to be scared out of your wits? Check out this “helluva story.” We think true evil is something which only exists in fiction. But no, Evil Genius dispells that myth. In 2003 a pizza delivery man in Erie, Pennsylvania walks into a bank. He has a bomb attached around his neck. He has a series of complex instructions to be followed by the bank, and by himself, if he wants to live. The case was baffling, it still is. Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is both incredibly intelligent and highly mentally ill. When her and her also brilliant, also unstable, on-again-off-again boyfriend get together the results are as terrifying as they are mysterious.


Don’t watch this alone. You may question every neighbor who comes and goes late at night…


There you are. See? If you don’t want to go out this weekend, if the smell of a grill repulses you, if you’re not beach body ready, there’s plenty to watch in the privacy of your own home.