Top 10 Banned Documentaries



Top 10 Banned Documentaries

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
If you're a fan of controversial movies, you'll love what this list has to offer! For this list, we'll be looking at documentaries that have been banned by various countries' governments or whose distribution has otherwise been suppressed. Our countdown includes “The Dissident”, “Bare Fist: The Sport That Wouldn't Die”, “Jenin, Jenin”, and more!

Top 10 Banned Documentaries

Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Banned Documentaries.

For this list, we’ll be looking at documentaries that have been banned by various countries’ governments or whose distribution has otherwise been suppressed.

Have you seen any of these banned documentaries? Let us know in the comments!

#10: “The Dissident” (2020)

Saudi Arabia
Director Bryan Fogel won an Oscar for his documentary “Icarus.” But his follow-up might’ve been too controversial for the Academy. “The Dissident” delves into the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was one of the nation’s most prominent journalists, and Fogel’s film shows the length he went to speak out against oppressive government policy. Unsurprisingly, the Saudi Arabia government banned the film, and prominent streaming companies Netflix and Amazon all turned it down, which some believe was due to fear of backlash from the Saudi government. However, the film performed well in its video-on-demand release, debuting in the top 10 on the iTunes and Apple TV charts.

#9: “The Man Who Mends Women: The Wrath of Hippocrates” (2015)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo
Documentaries can spotlight issues that are being widely ignored, as well as the people working to spread awareness and make a change. This documentary, from Belgian director Thierry Michel, is about Dr. Denis Mukwege (dennis mookhhhhh-WAY-JEY / yay), a Congolese gynecologist. Mukwege is renowned for his treatment and advocacy for female victims of assault during armed conflicts. The Congolese government banned the film on the grounds that it negatively portrayed the country’s army. LaScam, an association of thousands of journalists and documentarians, condemned the decision. And Dr. Mukwege has continued to fight for women, even without his country’s support.

#8: “Bare Fist: The Sport That Wouldn't Die” (1997)

The UK
A couple of years before “Fight Club,” a documentary was released about famed unlicensed boxer Lenny McLean (muh clean). Directed by David Monaghan, “Bare Fist,” tells McLean’s story from the perspective of his son, Jamie. However, McLean’s homeland of the U.K. didn’t permit the film. On two separate occasions, the British Board of Film Classification declined to give it any kind of certificate. Their reported argument was that the film could inspire viewers to try some of the dangerous fighting techniques depicted. Other films about McLean have since been released, including a dramatized depiction. We just have one warning: don’t try this at home.

#7: “The Save the Children Fund Film” (1971)

The UK
It’s easy to assume a documentary about a charity is going to paint it in a positive light. But that’s not what happened when acclaimed director Ken Loach was commissioned to make a film about British charity “Save the Children.” In the film, Loach examines the charity's most problematic behaviors, particularly those involving other races and ethnicities. Save the Children was able to suppress the film for decades before it was finally shown in 2011. There have been multiple screenings since then. But there's no indication it'll ever be available for home viewing or individual ownership.

#6: “Brave, Bashed, Battered and Bruised” (1997)

The UK
“Bare Fist” isn’t the only documentary banned in the U.K. for violence. The alliteratively titled “Braved, Bashed, Battered, and Bruised” was banned by the British Board of Film Classification. The film mainly consists of people enduring horrible injuries in martial arts face-offs, with plenty of blood along the way. The BBFC found its framing of real-life violence as entertainment to be so distasteful and unacceptable that the work was rejected and it was never granted a certificate, which is why there's no footage to show. They particularly criticized “its unrelenting focus on the infliction of injury and pain.” In this post-YouTube world, we wonder how much controversy a film like this could actually stoke nowadays.

#5: “Sikkim” (1971)

Director Satyajit Ray (sah-tya-jeet rye) is one of the most renowned filmmakers of all time. But his worldwide acclaim wasn’t enough to keep this hour-long documentary from being banned in his home country of India. “Sikkim” is about the nation of the same name and its sovereignty. However, when Sikkim became part of the Indian Union in 1975, the Indian government banned it. Largely assumed lost for decades, salvageable prints were discovered in the 2000s, and screenings began. India's Ministry of External Affairs undid the ban in 2010. While change can take a long time, it is possible.

#4: “Les maîtres fous” (1955)

It’s rare to have a documentary that angers two different groups for two different reasons. “Les maîtres fous,” a short film from director Jean Rouch (roosh), depicted the Hauka (how-KAH) movement of French Colonial Africa, in which citizens would mimic military ceremonies of colonial forces. The occupying forces were outraged by the perceived mockery and had the film banned in Ghana as well as other colonized African countries. African citizens were also outraged, because of the film’s apparent “exotic racism.” Somehow, “Les maîtres fous” ended up offending nearly everyone. However, it is available to watch in full if you’re curious.

#3: “Chavismo: The Plague of the 21st Century” (2018)

While Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had died in 2013, this 2018 documentary about him still managed to cause quite a stir. That’s not surprising with a title as inflammatory as this one. Public screenings of the film, which covers the controversial leader’s rise to power, were banned by Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice. The Teachers' Association of Simón Bolívar University spoke out against this censorship as an infringement on free speech. As of 2019, director Gustavo Tovar-Arroyo (arrr-ROH-joh/yoh) is reportedly living in exile from Venezuela. Let it never be said that documentary filmmakers aren’t incredibly brave.

#2: “Jenin, Jenin” (2002)

Documentaries allow us to hear from people whose voices might otherwise be suppressed. “Jenin, Jenin,” from Palestinian actor and director Mohammad Bakri (moo-HHHHHHAW-med BACK-ree), is composed solely of interviews. Bakri features Palestinian citizens reflecting on Operation Defensive Shield, an invasion of a Palestine refugee camp by the Israel Defense Forces. The Israel Film Council issued a ban on the documentary in 2003, a decision later overturned by the country’s Supreme Court. However, an Israeli soldier sued Bakri for defamation in 2016, claiming Bakri falsely accused him of stealing money. In 2021, Bakri was ordered to pay damages and "Jenin, Jenin" was banned in Israel once again.

#1: “Royal Family” (1969)

The UK
We all know of the British royal family, but this documentary offered a truly up close and personal look at the monarchy. Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her son Charles becoming Prince of Wales, director Richard Cawston shot 43 hours of footage. This was cut down to 90 minutes for television airings, where it attracted a huge audience. Some saw the film as dangerous, with David Attenborough telling Cawston he was “killing the monarchy.” Instead, the monarch ended up killing the film or at least tried to. The Queen banned the film from subsequent airings. However, it leaked on YouTube in 2021, where it currently remains. Talk about a royal pain.