2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: CODED BIAS

CODED BIAS | Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Shalini Kantayya explores disturbing gender and racial bias prevalent in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

Modern society sits at the intersection of two crucial questions: What does it mean when artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly governs our liberties? And what are the consequences for the people AI is biased against? When MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini discovers that most facial-recognition software does not accurately identify darker-skinned faces and the faces of women, she delves into an investigation of widespread bias in algorithms. As it turns out, AI is not neutral, and women are leading the charge to ensure our civil rights are protected.

Director Shalini Kantayya illuminates our mass misconceptions about AI and emphasizes the urgent need for legislative protection. From facial scanning used for policing and surveillance to automated HR systems that mirror and magnify workplace prejudices, these technologies are created with fundamentally biased building blocks. Emboldened by these remarkable and troubling discoveries, Buolamwini charts a way forward by joining ranks with other concerned experts to form a justice league committed to increasing awareness of the biases that underlie the technology that shapes our lives yet is largely free from legislative and public scrutiny.

Some Background:


  • Shalini Kantayya

    This is Kantayya’s sophomore feature doc following the solar energy-focused CATCHING THE SUN. She received funding for her Sundance debut through the Sundance Institute’s Science Sandbox Nonfiction Project, an initiative supporting storytelling exploring the link between science and culture.


  • Sabine Hoffman

    Hoffman has numerous Sundance credits as an editor for fiction projects, most recently 2018’s JULIET, NAKED, and returns this year with THE GLORIAS in the Premieres section.

Associate Producer:

  • Kathryn Henderson

    Henderson previously worked with Kantayya on CATCHING THE SUN. This marks her first Sundance project.


  • Zachary Ludescher and Alexandra Gilwit

    This is the first Sundance credit for both, who operate out of Brooklyn-based studio Dakoit. Ludescher also serves as the project’s visual effects supervisor.

Story Editors:

  • Christopher Seward
    Past Sundance docs:

    FIRE IN THE BLOOD (2013, editor)

  • Paul Rachman
    Past Sundance docs:

    WE’RE NOT BROKE (2012, associate producer)
    AMERICAN HARDCORE (2006, director/producer/editor)

  • Kurt Engfehr
    Past Sundance docs:

    THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD (2009, director)
    BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER* (2008, co-producer)

Why You Should Watch:
Kantayya’s compelling investigation – delving into the pioneering work of Joy Buolamwini, Cathy O’Neill, Big Brother Watch, and others – addresses vital and timely issues related not only our increasingly wired world but to applications in systems of control, with insidious, far-reaching consequences. Together with Jeff Orlowski’s THE SOCIAL DILEMMA, in the Documentary Premieres section, it serves as a provocative cautionary tale about our blind faith in technology.

More Info:
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.


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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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