It is that time of the year when I reflect on my top sources of entertainment, information, data, inspiration, forecasts, etc. This was an unusual year because of the pandemic and a range of other related and extraordinary events. Like other professionals, I spent more time in front of the computer screen -- mostly Zooming. The days were long; my eyes grew tired more quickly; Zoom fatigue set it; my bum hurt from sitting on the same dining room chair not designed for long-term daily occupancy. Worst of all, I spent too many hours and too many weekends bingeing on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Like many other executives, the weight of the decisions and contingency plans that needed to be drawn eventually weighed on me.
As a mom, I was more physically present with my munchkins. I watched our son, over the last few months, grow taller than me. Our daughter grew even more independent. She learned to fix the washing machine, tinkered with the family car, explored different chemicals with which she experimented and thrived in her consumer economics class. Yep, they are growing! For the parents out there, I will confess that I hate the feeling of my baby girl growing up and cannot stand the sight of the baby boy who now has muscles. How do I deal, mamas?
It took a while before I realized that, if I am going to spend that much time on “television,” I ought to watch some interesting content rather than linger in the mindless escape. The list that follows is not all educational but represents a mix of education, imagination, consciousness and leisure. As we are wrapping up 2020, it is a well-rounded list of 20 series, documentaries and movies worth watching. Plus, the bonuses. What can I say? It’s the pandemic edition!
The list includes family movies, animated movies, shows that are serious, shows that will bring a healthy dose of levity at the end of a hard day, shows that will help you escape whatever your current reality is and shows that will remind you of your responsibility as a steward and citizen of the world. What follows is a simple list in no ranking order. Have fun watching!
- Hair Love -- I start my list with this short from former NFL wide receiver Matthew Cherry on Black fathers learning to do their daughters’ hair. This one hit close to home for us, as hubby had hair-washing duty for our girl. It’s less than seven minutes long.
- Borgen -- This series is about a Danish mother who becomes prime minister. Her struggles to balance her marriage and motherhood with the demands of her responsibilities is one to which many of my readers here will be able to relate.
- The Two Popes -- My executive coach recommended this really powerful Netflix movie about the transition of Pope Francis to the papacy and the friendship that he and Pope Benedict formed. Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce delivered!
- Miss Americana -- You’ve got to love Taylor Swift! This biographical documentary is inspiring and shows one of our favorite singers as a person of conviction, a vulnerable human being and a woman committed to our planet and justice for all people. Her talents are immeasurable and her impact yet to be fully realized.
- The Laundromat -- Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, David Schwimmer and director Steven Soderbergh. Need I say more? This is a money-laundering movie with a conscience. It is witty, hilarious and based on true stories.
- Living Undocumented -- I was floored when I learned that Selena Gomez is one of the executive producers of this Netflix political series. I have shared with our children tidbits of our family’s story when we became undocumented, but the realities now are far harsher than they were then. Hard to watch this one without crying.
- Unorthodox -- Wow, what a series! This is a religious and a social miniseries about a young woman escaping life in a Hasidic Jewish family, something that her own mother had also done. This adaptation of a true story brings out the compassion in all of us.
- Into the Night -- Generally, I am not a sci-fi thriller kind of person, but this apocalyptic Belgian series spoke to me. Plus, one of the pilots reminded me of one of my childhood favorite comedians, Mr. Bean.
- Gentefied -- This was one of my favorite series this year. Latin, spicy, sassy, smart, inclusive, out-of-the-box, what box? Gotta love it! I’m not giving away more than that.
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople -- This movie I watched with the boy. Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, this adventurous friendship forged between a young foster teen and reluctant foster “uncle” is both wildly unimaginable and touching. Just the dose of levity one needs at the end of a long day.
- Jeopardy -- I can’t always tune in at 7:30 to watch the show and haven’t done so in a couple of decades. It was wonderful to discover that Netflix had old episodes. One of the worst things of 2020 was the passing of Alex Trebek. (Yes, I cried).
- The Edge of Democracy -- This political documentary was recommended to me by one of our Brazilian students at the college. It is, for certain, an education told from the perspectives of former presidents Lula and Rousseff and depicts the rise of current Brazilian president Bolsonaro.
- What the Health -- This food documentary is, in part, responsible for my daughter’s transition to vegetarianism. I will admit that I have not watched it myself but, given how influential it was in our family, I could not omit it from this year’s list.
- The Social Dilemma -- This year, I made a commitment to curb the number of hours I spent on social media. Watching this documentary made it abundantly clear how the designers of those tools intend for them to be all-encompassing and highlights their adverse impact on mental health, especially on the youth.
- Knock Down the House -- Whoa! This political feminist documentary is about more than AOC. It is about this new generation of women leaders who are driven by equality and economic and environmental justice. Their backgrounds and upbringings are much more similar to everyday Americans. They are as inspiring as they are gritty.
- Chasing Coral -- Those who know me know that I am very partial to underwater sea life. This documentary is about a team of marine biologists who are tracking the global phenomenon of the bleaching of corals happening across our planet and are encouraging local citizens to document and preserve what they can. Damn global warming!
- Hillary -- This Hulu biographical documentary about Hillary Clinton, the student, the mother, the wife of the politician, the politician and the first female candidate for the American presidency who came so close to making herstory.
- Moneyball -- OK, I am super late to the show with this one. What can I say? I love the Red Sox and loved this story about Billy Beane. Yes, I am a decade too late on that one. Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now, that’s a great cast!
- The Adventures of Tintin -- I grew up reading Les Aventures de Tintin with his dog, Milou. Watching a couple of these animated episodes with the munchkins felt so nostalgic. I can’t say that I appreciated the Anglo names that they gave everyone, but it was fun nonetheless.
- Self Made -- Once again, Octavia Spencer as Madam C. J. Walker delivered! Along with the talented Tiffany Haddish, they tell the honest story of one of the first and most successful African American entrepreneurs. It is the story of hair, of fitting in as Black women, and of success and entrepreneurship.
- Over the Moon -- Oh, Fei Fei! Hard not to love this touching animated Chinese movie about a young girl who fears her dad remarrying following the death of her mom. The movie also brings to animated life the legend of the Moon goddess Chang’e. Jade just looks so cuddly; I think I want a rabbit.
- Disclosure -- This was one of the most educational and provocative documentaries I watched this year, and it featured Laverne Cox and Zeke -- two of my favorite popular culture personalities. The challenges and triumphs of trans people in modern society call for us to reach deep into our conscience, consciousness and humanity to ensure that our espoused commitment to inclusion aligns with our treatment of others.
- American Factory -- One of the most profound documentaries I watched this year, it illustrates the ways that capitalism and cultural dexterity have to evolve in an increasingly globalized world. The fall and reincarnation of American manufacturing under new identities merits policy attention given the high risk of decline in the standard of living for the current and future generations of American workers.
- The Baby Sitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting -- All I have to say here is that it was an awesome movie to watch with my baby girl. Girl power, boy power, inclusive power; science is cool, and let’s catch the bad guy.
Yves Salomon-Fernández is president of Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts. She writes about women’s issues for Inside Higher Ed’s “University of Venus” from the perspective of a Generation Xer, a mom and a leader of color. Her Twitter and Insta handle is @PrezYves.