Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” This explains why some of the most memorable stories from film and TV have been based on real-life figures. Netflix has certainly explored this arena in its original series, miniseries, and films.
Not sure which series to check out? Here are 10 Netflix Originals based on real people, from beloved music stars like Selena to iconic fashion designers like Halston.
The five-episode miniseries, released in May 2021, is about the legendary fashion designer and adapted from the 1991 book, Simply Halston, by Steven Gaines. The story, spanning Halston’s career from the early 1960s through to the late 1980s, stars Ewan McGregor in the title role and earned him an Emmy nomination for his portrayal. Other notable people in Halston’s orbit include Liza Minnelli (played to perfection by Krysta Rodriguez) and Joel Schumacher (with Rory Culkin bringing that character to life).
Award show darling and Netflix’s most shining example of prestige drama, The Crown, wouldn’t exist if not for the British Royal Family, especially Queen Elizabeth II. The series started with Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne following the death of her father, King George VI. And the most recent season covered the courtship, wedding, and marriage of Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Diana (Emma Corrin). Four seasons are available to watch on the streamer right now, while Seasons 5 and 6 are currently filming.
We first saw the story of the Tejano superstar’s rise and untimely death on the big screen in 1997’s Selena, with Jennifer Lopez in the lead role. The Netflix limited series, starring Christian Serratos, tells the story across 18 episodes. It also places more emphasis on the entire Quintanilla family as well as Selena’s band, Los Dinos. Selena’s sister and drummer in Los Dinos, Suzette Quintanilla (played by Noemi Gonzalez), was an executive producer on Selena: The Series.
Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, became the basis for one of the first Netflix Original series. The storyline ventured into fiction over its seven seasons while still featuring Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), the character inspired by Kerman. Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) was loosely based on Catherine Cleary Wolters, referred to as “Nora” in Kerman’s book.
Inspired by the best-selling 2012 autobiography by Deborah Feldman, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, the four-episode miniseries centers on Esty (Shira Haas), a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman who escapes her arranged marriage and insular community in Brooklyn, NY. In reality, Feldman studied literature at Sarah Lawrence College before becoming a published author while Esty pursues a love of music in Unorthodox.
Based on the story of Pablo Escobar, the first two seasons of Narcos dealt with the Colombian drug lord, as well as his interactions with other drug kingpins, politicians, and the DEA. Remembered by many as a ruthless, violent man who made his vast fortune through the production and distribution of cocaine, the series also looks at how some people in Colombia regarded him as a savior and folk hero. The third season focused on the Cali Cartel following the fall of Escobar, while Season 4 became more of a spin-off known as Narcos: Mexico, set in the 1980s, with Wagner Moura reprising his role as Escobar and Alejandro Edda playing Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
This four-part Netflix miniseries is about the 1989 Central Park Jogger case, and the five young men from Harlem falsely accused of the crime. Acclaimed by critics and watched by over 23 million viewers, it was nominated for and won many awards. Jharrel Jerome took home the Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Emmy for his portrayal of Korey Wise.
in this six-part Netflix miniseries from Gideon Raff (Homeland), Sacha Baron Cohen stars as Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who was active with Mossad from 1961 to 1965. A more dramatic role than the comedic characters that made Cohen famous, his transformation in The Spy was largely praised. The series itself, however, was called out for historical inaccuracies.
Octavia Spencer plays Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C. J. Walker, the entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist who holds the record as the first female self-made millionaire in America. Walker earned her fortune through a line of cosmetics and hair care products for Black women that she both developed and marketed through the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, which she launched in 1906. Walker’s story comes to life in this four-part Netflix miniseries.
The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, also known as GLOW, was a syndicated show filmed in Las Vegas that first made a splash in 1986. The Netflix TV series, which was canceled after three seasons, featured characters inspired by GLOW‘s superstars. This includes Alison Brie’s Ruth Wilder/Zoya the Destroyer (based on Lori Palmer’s Colonel Ninotchka), and Betty Gilpin’s Debbie Eagan/Liberty Belle (inspired by Cindy Ferda’s Americana).
(Header and Still Images Courtesy of Netflix; GIFs by Wiretap)