Taking Office in a Time of Crisis: 16 Documentaries on Key Issues Biden Inherits

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks during day two, January 15, 2021, of laying out his plan on combating the coronavirus at the Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks during day two, January 15, 2021, of laying out his plan on combating the coronavirus at the Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

January 19, 2021

When President-elect Joe Biden takes the helm of a deeply divided country on Jan. 20, he’ll do so at a time of cascading national crises.

The possibility of further extremist violence looms in the wake of the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol — an insurrection carried out by a violent mob and fanned by President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept his election loss.

Approximately 400,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19. Amid concern about the emergence of a more transmissible strain of the coronavirus, Biden’s pick to lead the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said she expects the death toll to reach half a million by mid-February.

And in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, a reckoning over racism continues, with recent questions highlighting the disparity between law enforcement’s handling of the largely white crowd that breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 and police responses to Black Lives Matter protesters this summer.

For context on these and other pressing issues Biden inherits as he takes office against the backdrop of an unprecedented second impeachment of his predecessor, watch these 16 documentaries, all released in 2020 and organized below by theme, from FRONTLINE’s online collection of streaming films. And for a look at how Biden’s handling of past crises could inform his approach to this moment, watch President Biden Tuesday, Jan. 19 on PBS (check local listings) and online.


United States of Conspiracy investigates how conspiracy theories went from the fringes of U.S. politics into the White House, ultimately helping to fuel the Capitol siege on Jan. 6.

American Voices captures the stories and experiences of a diverse group of people across a country at odds on everything.

Whose Vote Counts investigates allegations of voter disenfranchisement and how unfounded claims of extensive voter fraud entered the political mainstream.

From race to class to partisanship, America’s Great Divide chronicles the evolution of the country’s intense polarization and examines who has stoked it.

Supreme Revenge: Battle for the Court examines how confirmation hearings became bitter, partisan battles and how one party’s appointees came to hold a 6-3 majority on the nation’s highest court. 

Coming soon: On Jan. 26, the FRONTLINE documentary Trump’s American Carnage traces how the outgoing president stoked distrust and anger throughout his term, ultimately resulting in insurrection.


America’s Medical Supply Crisis investigates why the U.S. was left scrambling for critical medical equipment as the coronavirus swept the country, and why promises to return medical supply manufacturing to the U.S. face steep challenges.

COVID’s Hidden Toll uncovers how the coronavirus has impacted essential agriculture workers who pick and process the food we eat.

The Virus: What Went Wrong? identifies fateful missteps in the world’s — and the Trump administration’s — early responses to the pandemic, setting the course for what was to come.

Watch five more FRONTLINE films on the pandemic.


Growing Up Poor in America looks at how the pandemic has impacted kids whose families were already struggling to stay afloat.


In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and calls for change, Policing the Police 2020 examines the prospects for reform through one city’s story.


Part of FRONTLINE’s ongoing coverage of the environment and climate issues, Plastic Wars investigates how the plastics industry used recycling as a tool to sell more plastic — and why experts have estimated no more than 10 percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled.


Targeting El Paso looks at the origins and impact of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including “zero tolerance” and family separations. The film traces how the border city of El Paso, Texas, became Trump’s immigration testing ground and then the target of a white supremacist.


China Undercover investigates the Chinese government’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslims, including what has been described as the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust.

Battle for Hong Kong documents a months-long movement pushing back against mainland China’s influence that saw the largest pro-democracy protests on Chinese territory since Tiananmen Square.

From on the ground in Afghanistan, Taliban Country exposes a harsh reality: Not only is the Taliban once again wielding power, but the threat from ISIS continues to loom large.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq traces the U.S.-led invasion and the years of chaos that have followed, as told by Iraqis who lived through it.

Coming soon: On Feb. 2, the documentary China’s COVID Secrets investigates the untold story of the coronavirus pandemic’s origins and how China responded.

Hundreds of additional documentaries are available in FRONTLINE’s online collection of streaming films and on the PBS Video App.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Senior Digital Writer, FRONTLINE



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