A field guide to 2017’s diverse slate of Oscar-nominated documentaries – Updated by Alissa Wilkinson@alissamariealissa@vox.com Feb 10, 2017, 9:00am EST Feb 10, 2017


This year’s slate goes deep on racism, mass incarceration, autism, and the migrant crisis.

The five documentaries nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category at the 2017 Oscars are unusually eclectic — and unusually urgent. Dealing with topics including race, mass incarceration, autism, and the European migrant crisis, they might all be seen as “issue documentaries,” movies that challenge the viewer to reconfigure the ways they understand the world.

But they’re also all very different, and none of them are totally conventional. Life, Animated, about a family learning to navigate their son’s autism, is the most traditional-feeling documentary, a story told by its subjects. 13th is both fiery and a firehose of information about the US prison system, a damning case and an impassioned plea for change with images that linger after the credits roll.

Fire at Sea, exploring the migrant crisis, takes the exact opposite tack, interspersing scenes from ordinary life with the extraordinary intake of migrants on an Italian island. And both O.J.: Made in America and I Am Not Your Negrotrace the history of race in America, but through different means: One is a historical lesson, while the other is virtually a memoir.

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