Environmental Documentaries: The Hype on Netflix

The environment with Melissa Evatt.

The Netflix effect: the hype which ensues after the release of a new documentary, series, or film, predominantly about the environment. An example being the infamous A Life on our Planet by David Attenborough, which has been nominated for 5 Emmy awards this year, and streamed millions of times on Netflix.  

Wildlife and environmental documentaries educate, inform and inspire a range of audiences across the globe. Every year we’re met with an abundance of wildlife series, documentaries, podcasts, and many more methods of media detailing the welfare of the environment and its endangered flora and fauna.  

Hundreds of wildlife and environmental documentaries, films, tv shows, and series were filmed and produced by environmentalists and wildlife experts in 2020, along with the likes of the nation’s treasure, David Attenborough. 

David Attenborough’s latest Netflix sensation, A Life on our Planet, which was released just last year, was followed by an influx of new wildlife documentaries and series’ detailing the lives of some of the world’s most endangered animals and some of the darkest secrets of the fish and meat trade. The aim of such documentaries is to spread accurate and trustworthy information and continue the already huge momentum surrounding the issues of climate change. However, the trend in Netflix documentaries seems to create a brief hype which sometimes loses momentum. 

But why is this the case? 

Building an emotional connection: 

Documentaries and films regarding the environment, especially ones involving endangered and critically endangered animals, are more likely to evoke emotions amongst its audiences, therefore they’re more likely to be spoken about and shared on social media which consequently aids in the promotion of both the material and message about protecting the environment.  

A benefit of having an emotional connection to a film/series/documentary is that it sparks a conversation which subsequently encourages change and promotes a better adoption of attitudes towards the environment, consumerism, and our contributions to climate change. However, the downside of this emotional connection to such documentaries can be seen through the effects and symptoms of eco-anxiety. A term used to describe the feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious about the welfare of the planet and feeling as though the burden lies heavily on our shoulders.  

This burden or anxiety towards the future could be a potential factor in what lessens the hype after the release of a new Netflix series or documentary.  

Keeping up the momentum, is it possible? 

With David Attenborough’s A Life on our Planet, and the Netflix original, Seaspiricy, there was a vast rise in social media interaction and levels of discussion, especially surrounding the controversial and eye-opening documentary, Seaspiricy. It goes without saying, these documentaries definitely tore on some heart strings of mine and have left an ever-lasting impression, changing the way I see and value our oceans, as well as questioning where even our ‘free-range’ products derive from.  

Is it possible to keep the momentum up on the fight against climate change?  

With the no end of new series, documentaries, and films, there is a constant stream of new information with the purpose of educating and inspiring a range of audiences to tackle climate change for future generations. Whilst the ‘hype’ surrounding a lot of these environmental films have appeared to have somewhat died down, Seaspiricy have taken to social media to continue their plight against ocean pollution and the unlawful treatment of sea creatures. Their Instagram, which was once used for the marketing of the documentary, is now dedicated to raising awareness of world events and incidents regarding the world’s oceans and its inhabitants and have a crewed more than 680 thousand followers.  

To answer the question, yes – keeping up the momentum is possible, however the presence of social media and an already successful documentary could have been the potential reasoning behind Seaspiricy’s larger Instagram following.   

To summarise, a wildlife/environmental documentary’s hype can be dependent on its emotional connection and its traction both on and offline, particularly with its social media presence. The rise of Netflix series, especially Seaspiricy, have pulled at many people’s heart strings and given many a hope at altering the dramatic effects of climate change before it’s too late.  

What is your opinion on the Netflix effect? Is this the new reality of environmental documentaries, or are they slowly paving the way for a better future?  

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