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16 Things You Might Not Know About Rambo

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Happy 70th birthday, Sylvester Stallone! In honor of the big guy's big day, we thought we’d round up a few facts you may not have known about one of Sly’s most iconic characters. Lock and load!

1. RAMBO IS NAMED AFTER AN APPLE AND A POET.

First Blood (1982) was adapted from writer David Morrell’s 1972 novel of the same name. Morrell named the character “Rambo” after a type of apple cultivated by a 17th-century Swedish settler named Peter Gunnarson Rambo. In the book the character didn’t have a first name, but in the movie he was given the full name John Rambo.

While writing the book, the author was struggling with what to name his main character when one day he had an apple as a snack. According to Morrell, “I took a bite of the apple and discovered that it was in fact delicious. ‘What's it called?’ I asked [my wife]. ‘Rambo,’ she replied … Instantly, I recognized the sound of force. It also reminded me of the way some people pronounce the name of a French poet I'd been studying, Rimbaud, whose most famous work is ‘A Season In Hell,’ which I felt was an apt metaphor for the prisoner-of-war experiences that I imagined Rambo suffering.”

2. HE’S BASED ON A REAL-LIFE WAR HERO.

Morrell first thought of writing a book about a decorated war hero struggling to assimilate back to civilian life when he read about the real-life exploits of World War II soldier Audie Murphy. Murphy was the most decorated American soldier in World War II, earning every possible U.S. military decoration for valor as well as five separate decorations from foreign countries including France and Belgium.

Following the war, Murphy starred as himself in the film adaptation of his own autobiography, To Hell and Back, and would go on to have a film career, appearing in 44 feature films. Murphy—who later suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, which also inspired Morrell’s characterization of Rambo—tragically died in a plane crash in 1971. The Canadian-born Morrell decided to update his novel to the post-Vietnam era due to the political and cultural climate he saw as a grad student at Penn State in the late 1960s.

Morrell would go on to write the novelizations of the second and third Rambo movies. Since he had Rambo die at the end of the first book he had to retroactively change that to have his hero alive and well in the subsequent books.

3. SYLVESTER STALLONE DIDN’T WANT TO BE RAMBO.

The film rights to Morrell’s book were optioned by Columbia Pictures in the early 1970s, then passed to Warner Bros. and continued through the studio system for 10 years. It became the most optioned project in Hollywood between 1972 and 1982, until the rights were bought by independent producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna.

More than 26 drafts of the story were written during the decade of development and dozens of actors signed on and dropped out of the role of Rambo including Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, and Dustin Hoffman.

Stallone was brought on when director Ted Kotcheff offered him the part because of his popularity in the Rocky franchise, but Stallone turned him down because he felt that the role had passed through too many actors and the movie would never really get made. He later committed to the role when he was offered the opportunity to rewrite the screenplay (his $3.5 million salary may also have helped) in order to make Rambo more sympathetic as opposed to the PTSD-crazed madman the character resembled in the novel.

4. RAMBO DOESN’T ACTUALLY KILL ANYONE IN THE FIRST MOVIE.

Despite his notorious reputation for shooting first and asking questions later, Rambo doesn’t actually do anyone in in First Blood—he only severely wounds the people trying to hunt and harm him. This was a conscious effort on Stallone’s part in his script to change the character into an underdog from the character in the book who, due to his PTSD, goes on a wild killing rampage, which Stallone felt would alienate the audience.

The one character who does die is Deputy Galt, who tracks Rambo through the mountains in a helicopter. Galt, who attempts to shoot Rambo with a rifle, loses his balance and falls from the helicopter after Rambo merely throws a rock toward it to defend himself.

Like the book, Rambo himself was to die at the end of the movie at the hands of Colonel Trautman. The scene where Rambo is killed was filmed, but was scrapped after test audiences hated the fact that it seemed to imply the only way for veterans returning home to cope was by dying.

5. KIRK DOUGLAS WAS SUPPOSED TO PLAY COLONEL TRAUTMAN.

The veteran movie star actually made it to set and appeared in early advertisements for First Blood, but left the production when he demanded the right to rewrite the script. Douglas favored the ending of the book, and felt that Rambo should die in the end. The actor gave the filmmakers an ultimatum: if the production didn’t let him do what he wanted with the script he’d quit. Kotcheff and Stallone wanted to leave the door open for the possibility for Rambo to live or die at the end of the movie, so they let Douglas quit.

Actor Richard Crenna was then cast with a single day’s notice to fill Douglas’ shoes as Rambo’s mentor and father figure, Colonel Trautman. Crenna would reprise his role in two more Rambo movies before he passed away in 2003. He is the only actor besides Stallone to appear in multiple Rambo movies.

The unused alternate ending of First Blood, in which Trautman shoots and kills Rambo, can be seen briefly in the dream sequence in the fourth film, Rambo.

6. RAMBO’S KNIFE WAS CUSTOM MADE.

Stallone personally selected famed knifemaker Jimmy Lile to design and create the iconic knife first used by Rambo in First Blood. The goal was to create a knife that could be reliable for extreme survival situations, including being long and sharp enough to slice food or cut wood; waterproof and able to hold necessities like matches and medicine; able to carry a nylon string for fishing or snaring; and have an alternate blade of sawteeth for defense and in order to cut poles for shelter.

In all, six knives were created to be used during production of First Blood, with additional updated versions made for subsequent movies in the series.

7. FOR RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, JAMES CAMERON WROTE THE ACTION AND STALLONE WROTE THE POLITICS.

Initial drafts of the screenplay for the sequel to First Blood were written by James Cameron, who at the time was still looking for his big break. Cameron’s script, which was titled First Blood II: The Mission and was written simultaneously with the scripts for The Terminator and Aliens (two movies which ultimately gave him that big break), differed substantially from what ended up on screen.

According to Cameron: “I was trying to create a semi-realistic, haunted character, the quintessential Vietnam returnee, not a political statement." Cameron’s draft picked up with Colonel Trautman finding Rambo in a psychiatric ward (a concept Cameron would recycle for his Sarah Connor character in Terminator 2), and also featured a sidekick role named Lieutenant Brewer that producers hoped would be filled by John Travolta, who Stallone had recently directed in the 1983 Saturday Night Fever sequel, Staying Alive (yes, you read that correctly, Sly directed the sequel to Saturday Night Fever). Eventually Stallone took over scriptwriting duties, and excised the first half of Cameron’s screenplay to add the film’s prominent POW/MIA message and the love story beats with the character Co-Bao.

Rambo: First Blood Part II is the only Rambo movie to be nominated for an Oscar. It received a nod for Best Sound Effects Editing in 1986 but lost to Back to the Future.

8. THE VIETNAMESE JUNGLE IS ACTUALLY MEXICO.

Director George P. Cosmatos, who was hired by the producers because they loved his previous movie Of Unknown Origin, originally wanted to shoot the movie in the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, which proved to be logistically and financially impossible for such a massive production. Instead, they shot the movie entirely on location in Acapulco, Mexico because it was cheaper and closer to the U.S.—not to mention they could stay on the beautiful beaches in the area while shooting.

The Mexican jungles doubled for Vietnam, and the production cleverly inserted small details in an effort to make it seem like they were in Asia. For instance, the massive Buddha statue seen in the opening credit sequence was created entirely out of gold-painted Styrofoam and shot in the parking lot of the production’s Acapulco beach resort hotel. It was then painted over again and used in the jungle temple where Rambo meets Co Bao, which was a set created by the production only 10 minutes away from their hotel as well. The U.S. military base where Murdock oversees the operation actually belonged to the Mexican Air Force, as did most of the aircraft seen in the movie. The most costly location was an actual rice paddy that was planted by the production and used during the scene where Rambo attempts to escape with the POWs.

The only thing that Cosmatos requested but couldn’t get were native Vietnamese water buffalo; they proved too costly to import to Mexico.

9. MEXICO WASN’T THE PARADISE THE FILMMAKERS THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.

The beachfront digs at least made the potentially grueling production a bit easier … that is until Hurricane Odile destroyed most of the sets during shooting in September of 1984. The setback caused the production to shut down temporarily, which forced Cosmatos and Stallone to have to think fast. In order to make up for lost days, they decided to shoot insert shots and close-ups at their hotel while production got back up and running. One of these scenes was the famous “suit-up scene” showing Rambo prepping the arsenal of weapons he initially takes on his mission. The influential scene has since been copied and parodied numerous times in subsequent films.

10. TO BECOME RAMBO, STALLONE HAD A RIDICULOUS WORKOUT SCHEDULE.

First Blood required Stallone to be ripped (he shot Rocky III shortly before starring in the first Rambo movie, which helped), but for the second outing he really needed to pump some iron. The actor trained for eight months prior to the film’s start date in late 1984, but he maintained a strict regimen during shooting as well.

He would begin with a two- to three-hour morning workout, then he’d move on to the 10- to 12-hour shooting day on the movie. After that, instead of going home like the rest of the cast and crew, he’d cap off the day with another two- to three-hour workout. After six hours of sleep or so he’d be up and ready to do it all again. Maintaining that physique definitely helped Stallone for his next movie as well: he began shooting Rocky IV immediately after First Blood Part II.

11. A LINE IN RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II INSPIRED A NEW SLY STALLONE TRILOGY.

During a scene on a sampan midway through the movie, Co Bao asks Rambo why he was chosen to go on this alleged suicide mission, to which Rambo replies, “I’m expendable.”

Twenty-five years later, Stallone would develop and co-write The Expendables, an ensemble action movie starring Stallone and a handful of his fellow 1980s action stars, about an elite group of mercenaries given high-risk missions. Stallone confirmed that the title of the film came from dialogue in First Blood Part II. The Expendables movie would go on to spawn two sequels with a potential fourth installment, a TV series, and an all-female spinoff—cheekily titled “The Expendabelles”—in development.

12. RAMBO III’S ORIGINAL DIRECTOR LEFT TWO WEEKS INTO PRODUCTION.

Russell Mulcahy, the original director of the third installment of the Rambo series, was fired two weeks into the production of the movie due to creative differences. The eventual director, Peter MacDonald—who was originally hired as a second unit director—was given only two days notice before picking up where Mulcahy left off (only portions of the footage directed by Mulcahy remain in the final film).

The prospect of picking up any job, let alone a multi-million dollar franchise, with only two days’ notice would be extremely tough. Not only was Rambo III MacDonald’s debut as a director, but the $63 million production was also the most expensive movie ever made up until that point.

13. THE TIMING OF RAMBO III’S RELEASE WAS REALLY POOR.

The plot of the third movie involves Rambo teaming up with Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan (funny enough, the movie was mostly shot in the deserts of Israel) to combat Russian soldiers and save Colonel Trautman during the Soviet-Afghan War. The storyline attempted to continue the anti-Soviet slant of the series that began in the second installment … that is until history stepped in.

Around the time the movie was in post-production in late 1987, aiming for a May 1988 release, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev began implementing glasnost, the official easing of tensions and increased transparency between the U.S. and the USSR toward the end of the Cold War. Then, 10 days before Rambo III’s release, the Soviet Union began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan altogether, deflating the main thrust of the movie’s anti-Soviet premise.

14. THE END DEDICATION WAS CHANGED AFTER 9/11.

The movie currently ends with the quote, “This film is dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan,” but when it was first released in 1988 the dedication read, “This film is dedicated to the brave Mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan.” The change was made because Mujahideen fighters had been linked to Al Qaeda following the September 11th attacks.

15. RAMBO COULD HAVE BEEN IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION IN THE FOURTH MOVIE.

When Stallone decided to revisit the story of Rambo 20 years after the third movie, the original idea for the fourth installment involved Rambo helping to rescue a woman in Tijuana, Mexico. According to Stallone, early ideas for the movie were to emphasize illegal immigration as a focal point but the idea was scrapped because he wanted to keep the character in a jungle setting.

Stallone introduced the idea of setting the movie in Burma after reading about protests that led to the events of the Saffron Revolution and the ongoing civil war conflict between the Myanmar military and Karen rebels, which he felt wasn’t being properly covered in the Western media.

16. RAMBO IS BANNED IN PRESENT DAY MYANMAR.

Stallone, who directed and co-wrote the fourth movie, sought input from the Burmese people to tell their story, going so far as to cast many non-actors as extras. Maung Maung Khin, who plays the evil Myanmar General Tint, is actually a former Karen rebel freedom fighter. Because of this anti-Myanmar government perspective, the film is banned throughout the country.

Additional Sources: Blu-ray special features

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Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
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Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.

MAY 1

27: Gone Too Soon

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Amelie

Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1

Beautiful Girls

Darc

God's Own Country

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City

Mr. Woodcock

My Perfect Romance

Pocoyo & Cars

Pocoyo & The Space Circus

Queens of Comedy: Season 1

Reasonable Doubt

Red Dragon

Scream 2

Shrek

Simon: Season 1

Sliding Doors

Sometimes

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Carter Effect

The Clapper

The Reaping

The Strange Name Movie

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2

MAY 2

Jailbreak

MAY 4

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Anon

Busted!: Season 1

Dear White People: Volume 2

End Game

Forgive Us Our Debts

Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2

Manhunt

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey

No Estoy Loca

The Rain: Season 1

MAY 5

Faces Places

MAY 6

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

MAY 8

Desolation

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives

MAY 9

Dirty Girl

MAY 11

Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3

Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Spirit Riding Free: Season 5

The Kissing Booth

The Who Was? Show: Season 1

MAY 13

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife

MAY 14

The Phantom of the Opera

MAY 15

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4

Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14

Only God Forgives

The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16

MAY 16

89

Mamma Mia!

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Kingdom

Wanted

MAY 18

Cargo

Catching Feelings

Inspector Gadget: Season 4

MAY 19

Bridge to Terabithia

Disney’s Scandal: Season 7

Small Town Crime

MAY 20

Some Kind of Beautiful

MAY 21

Señora Acero: Season 4

MAY 22

Mob Psycho 100: Season 1

Shooter: Season 2

Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2

Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here

MAY 23

Explained

MAY 24

Fauda: Season 2

Survivors Guide to Prison

MAY 25

Ibiza

Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life

The Toys That Made Us: Season 2

Trollhunters: Part 3

MAY 26

Sara's Notebook

MAY 27

The Break with Michelle Wolf

MAY 29

Disney·Pixar's Coco

MAY 30

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4

MAY 31

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern

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20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. WILD WILD COUNTRY (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary that touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights—should be your new obsession. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. FLINT TOWN (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. MAKERS: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA (2013)

Narrated by Meryl Streep, this three-part series covers a half-century of American experience from the earliest days of second-wave feminism through Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination in the 1990s. Ellen DeGeneres, Condoleezza Rice, Sally Ride, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and more are featured, and the series got six more episodes in a second season.

Where to watch it: Makers.com

4. THE JINX (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. One was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO

5. MAKING A MURDERER (2015)

The second major true crime phenom of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. WORMWOOD (2017)

Speaking of good conspiracies: documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. FIVE CAME BACK (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011)

If you can’t afford film school, and your local college won’t let you audit any more courses, Mark Cousins’s 915-minute history is the next best thing. Unrivaled in its scope, watching it is like having a charming encyclopedia discuss its favorite movies. Yes, at 15-episodes it’s sprawling, so, yes, you should watch it all in one go. Carve out a weekend and be ready to take notes on all the movies you want to watch afterward.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

9. UGLY DELICIOUS (2018)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people through the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. JAZZ (2000)

A legend of nonfiction, Ken Burns has more than a few docuseries available to stream, including long-form explorations of the Civil War and baseball. His 10-episode series on jazz exhaustively tracks nearly a century of the formation and evolution of the musical style across the United States. You’ll wanna mark off a big section of the calendar and crank up the volume.

Where to watch it: Amazon

11. THE STAIRCASE (2004)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. (Netflix just announced that it will be releasing three new episodes of the series this summer.)

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

12. PLANET EARTH II (2016)

The sequel to the 2006 original is a real stunner. Narrated (naturally) by Sir David Attenborough, featuring music from Hans Zimmer, and boasting gorgeous photography of our immeasurably fascinating planet, this follow-up takes us through different terrains to see the life contained within. There are snow leopards in the mountains, a swimming sloth in the islands, and even langurs in our own urban jungle. Open your eyes wide to learn a lot or put it on in the background to zen out.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. CONFLICT (2015)

Experience the too-often-untold stories of conflict zones through the lenses of world class photographers like Nicole Tung, Donna Ferraro, and João Silva. This heart-testing, bias-obliterating series is unique in its views into dark places and eye toward hope.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. LAST CHANCE U (2016)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. There are two full seasons to binge and a third on the way.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. VICE (2013)

Currently in its sixth season, the series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens.

Where to watch it: HBO

17. CHEF’S TABLE (2015)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. No shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. NOBU’S JAPAN (2014)

For those looking to learn more about culture while chowing down, world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa guides guest chefs to different regions of Japan to ingest the sights, sounds, and spirits of the area before crafting a dish inspired by the journey. History is the main course, with a healthy dash of culinary invention that honors tradition.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

19. THE SYSTEM (2014)

Should a jury decide if a child is sentenced to life in jail without parole? How can you go to jail for 20 years for shooting your gun inside your own home to deter thieves? These are just two of the questions examined by this knockout series about the conflicts, outdated methods, and biases lurking in America’s criminal justice system. Insightful and infuriating, it makes a strong companion to Ava DuVernay’s 13th.

Where to watch it: Al Jazeera and Sundance Now

20. BOBBY KENNEDY FOR PRESIDENT (2018)

It won’t be available until April 27 (so close!), but it’s well worth adding to your queue. This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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