Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Binging Whiteness: Rhetorics of Whiteness in Netflix Documentaries

Zoe Caroline Farquhar, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In 2015, the Netflix original series Making a Murderer was released and immediately enjoyed unprecedented success. The series grew beyond the scope of the streaming platform and into the public imaginary as a story about a man slighted by an unjust and cruel criminal justice system. This man, Steven Avery, is a white Wisconsin-born working-class man currently serving time in prison for murder. This series and the subsequent audience response is illustrative of what Angela Aguayo terms a participatory media public. Audiences of documentary film are not passive viewers but active participants in the stories shown on screen. The widespread accessibility of these texts on streaming platforms such as Netflix gives audiences access and agency previously unimagined. Streaming services have experienced a boom in the past decade and continue to grow today. Similarly, the documentary genre has been experiencing a similar boom. Together, streaming services and documentary film have constructed and shifted cultural understanding of the world around us. The goal of this dissertation is to consider both Netflix and the documentary genre as they work to construct, reify, and challenge understandings of whiteness. Whiteness studies gained traction within the discipline in 1995 with Thomas Nakayama and Robert Krizek’s foundational essay “Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric.” Since then, whiteness studies has expanded across disciplines. Rhetoric scholars have paid particular attention to how whiteness is articulated in everyday language as well as mediated representations. This dissertation expands upon extant knowledge about representations of whiteness in popular media. This project centralizes three Netflix documentaries. The first, Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea, explicitly deals with issues of whiteness and privilege. The remaining two, Making a Murderer and Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness do not directly deal with topics of whiteness but, nevertheless, forward understandings of whiteness. In the following chapters, I explore the connection between race and documentary film along with the current boom in both streaming services and the documentary genre. Ultimately, this dissertation explores how documentary film, streaming technologies, and race come together and circulate ideologies of whiteness.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Communication|Ethnic studies|Film studies

Recommended Citation

Farquhar, Zoe Caroline, "Binging Whiteness: Rhetorics of Whiteness in Netflix Documentaries" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI29322169.