Stream Mindfully

Entertainment has become a creative form of activism, and streaming platforms are treasure troves of content for the mindful citizen. Chances are, you’ve seen a few of these series pop on your recommended Netflix or Amazon Prime lists. These documentary-style shows deliver content focused on social and environmental issues in bite-size episodes, so you can binge away while lounging in your sweatpants this weekend.

Looking for something that won’t autoplay the next episode? Check out our roundup of conscious documentaries on Netflix.


1. Inside Bill’s Brain

Where To Stream | Netflix
| Four 70-minute episodes

The man needs no introduction. Bill Gates is one of the richest and smartest people living on Earth, and since founding Microsoft, he's turned his attention to tackling global health through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In this three-episode miniseries, Gates explains three things he’s been thinking about and working on: creating a modern toilet for developing countries, eliminating polio, and harnessing the power of nuclear energy. To answer your question, yes, it does seem like he’s committed to solving only complex problems with a thoughtful balance of both knowledge and wealth. Hear him out, though, and you’re bound to walk away with a new perspective (or at least a few critical reading tips from the man who reads 10+ books a week).

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2. Unnatural Selection

Where To Stream | Netflix
| Three 50-minute episodes

We're all familiar with genetically-modified foods and The Non-GMO Project butterfly logo on our produce. But what about gene editing in humans? Scientists are the stars in the series “Unnatural Selection,” where humans are hacking biology. At best, gene-editing technologies can seemingly eliminate diseases—but they can also customize unborn babies and eradicate entire species. If you're looking for a controversial, cerebral show full of bioethical questions, spend your Saturday afternoon watching this miniseries.

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3. Rotten

Where To Stream | Netflix
| Two seasons (60-minute episodes)

You might not want to be eating dinner while watching this one. If the show poster of an avocado disguised as a grenade says anything, it's that "Rotten" doesn’t shy away from hard truths. Instead, this docuseries “travels deep into the heart of the food supply chain to reveal unsavory truths and expose hidden forces that shape what we eat.” Avocados, Mary Jane edibles, French wine and cod—nothing is what meets the eye as societal forces, corporate interests, and geographical regulations sway some of our favorite foods. Let the exposés begin.

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4. America To Me

Where To Stream | Amazon Prime, Starz
| Ten 60-minute episodes

For one year, an Academy Award-filmmaker interviews students who attend an elite school in the Oak Park suburb of Chicago that reflects the racial, economic, and cultural makeup of the U.S. at large. There’s no script here, just candid interviews following 12 young artists, scholars, iconoclasts, and athletes. It turns out, students are under a lot of pressure, and tensions run high around racial disparity—even in high school. Having earned a nomination for the 2019 Television Critics Association award, "America To Me" is complex, controversial, and willingly dives into the murky waters of the American education system through the eyes of students.

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5. Our Planet

Where To Stream | Netflix
| Eight 50-minute episodes

Climate change is about so much more than just hotter-than-hot summers and melting ice caps, as seen in this Emmy-nominated Netflix original series. From the makers of “Planet Earth,” this miniseries shows green goddess Gaia in all her glory—well, with the darker shadow of how climate change would impact all living creatures. Featuring stunning nature cinematography, watch “Our Planet” for everything from wildebeests in the Serengeti and orangutans in the jungle to footage of forests and the deep, dark ocean.

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6. Parts Unknown

Where To Stream | Netflix
| 11 seasons (40-minute episodes)

The world is still missing a piece of its heart from the loss of celebrity chef and world-traveler, Anthony Bourdain. "Parts Unknown" was Bourdain’s flagship venture, looking into the political and social influences of different countries through a laid-back approach to good food and even better company. Since Bourdain’s passing in 2018, this series now bears a subtext of empathy, underlining and promoting mental health awareness as viewers watch Bourdain recount lonely moments while traveling the globe.

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7. One Strange Rock

Where To Stream | Netflix
Length | Ten 45-minute episodes

Astronauts have one of the rarest occupations—NASA only has 38 active astronauts on their roster—so this series "One Strange Rock" is a special treat. (Spoiler alert: that one strange rock is Earth.) Hosted by Will Smith, the Netflix series interviews eight astronauts that have seen the world from up-high. They talk about how breathing works in space, the possibility of life on another planet, and what Earth is like on a scientific level. If you know your astronauts, the legendary Peggy Whitson, (she spent 665 days in space) is also featured in this series. That’s one way to deliver “next level” content.

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8. The Mind, Explained

Where To Stream | Netflix
| Five 20-minute episodes

Whether you’re a psychology major or simply interested in learning more about the mind, this series hosted by Emma Stone dives into what dreams, psychedelics, mindfulness, and even anxiety. Modern science has opened up the black box of the brain, and this miniseries is illuminating everything we know.

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9. The New Yorker Presents

Where To Stream | Amazon Prime
| Eleven 30-minute episodes

For bookish scholars whose daily serving of vitamins includes a copy of the New Yorker, you may enjoy this series that had a brief, one-season stint bringing the magazine’s most vivid stories to life. This living room of a series hosts an eclectic crowd: a French author who drank 50 cups of coffee a day, a famous gay Mexican wrestling star, Harlem's fried chicken king, and a nurse working with some of the most impoverished families in America. Press “play” to meet them.

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10. Planet Earth

Where To Stream | Netflix, BBC
| Eleven 50-minute episodes

The BBC’s classic “Planet Earth” has been airing since 2006, and it’s truly one that never gets old if you can’t get enough of nature. It’s breathtaking. It’s mystical. Some parts are heartbreaking, yet each episode will leave you in wonder at the biodiversity of this blue-green orb we live on. It’s no surprise, then, that the show has won four Emmys, including Outstanding Nonfiction Series. If you’re already a “Planet Earth” devotee, check out one of the 10 spinoffs (e.g., Frozen Planet, Planet Earth II, Wild Alaska) also available to stream on Netflix.

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11. Explained

Where To Stream | Netflix, BBC
| Two seasons (20-minute episodes)

An enlightening series from Vox, “Explained” covers everything from the world's water crisis to cryptocurrency, athleisure, and weed. It’s everything you wanted to know about things like K-pop (how did it become a global phenomenon?) or the female orgasm (an intellectual take), wrapped up into 20-minute episodes. If you love Vox’s breakdown of the news, you’ll love this approachable take on cultural moments, explained.

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12. Living Undocumented

Where To Stream | Netflix
| Six 45-minute episodes

American immigration policies are in limbo as back-to-back opposing administrations uproot everything from asylum protections to DACA and border security. Yet, behind all the news headlines, it’s easy to forget that there are real people impacted by changing laws. One subset of immigrants—undocumented immigrants, account for over 10.5 million people in the U.S. (since the last count). "Living Undocumented" is a series spearheaded by Selena Gomez in conjunction with Emmy Award-winning producers and follows eight undocumented families as they navigate daily life. Some get work permits. Others get deported. This series hits home in 2019.

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Alice is a California-grown writer thinking on the things shaping urban living, the modern woman, and living a conscious life of impact in light of a bigger world. A graduate of Northwestern University's j-school, she spent time abroad working with a microfinance project in Peru before transitioning into a 9-5 in the global development sector. When she's not daydreaming about opening a social impact coffee shop, you can find her traveling, plié-ing at the barre studio, or curled up with a good book. Follow her latest creative endeavors and musings at The Kind Citizen or on Instagram at @alice.zhng.