Is a documentary a secondary source?

A documentary can either be a secondary or a tertiary source. It is a secondary source if it analyses different types of sources and a tertiary source if it only repackages information and doesn't provide interpretations or opinions.

When documentaries include some sort of social critique, they should be considered secondary sources. The True Cost, for instance, is a documentary that did not only gather sources but curated them to share a message. It includes opinions and material that invites the viewer to rethink their retail consumption.

On the other hand, when the main purpose of a documentary is to only capture reality, then it is considered a tertiary source. For example, the documentary RBG considered an “assemblage of interviews, public appearances and archival material, organized to illuminate the temperament of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by The New York Times should be categorized as a tertiary source. RBG portrays the life and milestones of Ruth Ginsburg and does not provide any social critique.

RBG movie poster by Magnolia Pictures
Movie Poster for RBG documentary released May 2018. The RGB documentary is considered to be a tertiary source. Image source: http://www.magpictures.com/resources/presskits/RBG/