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Netflix courts controversy with release of Rachel Dolezal documentary

Thursday, March 15th 2018 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

In the relatively short time since it started producing original content, Netflix has shown that it’s not afraid to tackle controversial subjects.

Think back to last year’s To the Bone, a film telling the story of a woman suffering from anorexia, or 13 Reasons Why, which generated controversy over its handling of issues including suicide, self-harm and teenage grief.

Next month Netflix is set to release a documentary all about Rachel Dolezal, the former civil rights activist who came to media attention in 2015 when it was revealed she was a white woman passing as black.

If people’s initial reactions on social media are anything to go by, this film could be almost as divisive as Dolezal herself.

Amid worldwide controversy and accusations of cultural appropriation, Dolezal resigned from her role as a branch president at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and was dismissed from her position as an instructor in Africana studies at Eastern Washington University.



She has since legally changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo and published a memoir called In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World, in which she compares her experiences to slavery and claims she was born in a teepee.

Director Laura Brownson and her team filmed exclusively with Dolezal, her sons and her adopted sister Esther for two years, capturing the effect all this has had on the woman herself and those closest to her.

The result is The Rachel Divide, a Netflix original documentary executive produced by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams and available to watch on the streaming service from 27 April.

Netflix has said Dolezal was not paid for appearing in the documentary, while Brownson told Vulture: “In making the film, I came to a deeper understanding of the raw nerve that Rachel hits in our society, but I also learned that her motivations to identify as she does are far more complicated than most realize.

“Regardless of how people feel about Rachel, I hope the film will challenge audiences to think more deeply about race and identity in America.”

The Rachel Divide will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival before you’ll get the chance to make up your own mind next month.

If you can’t wait that long to sink your teeth into a good documentary, or if The Rachel Divide just isn’t the one for you, then have no fear – we’ve already picked out some of the best documentaries available on Netflix.

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