Coded Bias

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Coded Bias
Film poster
Directed byShalini Kantayya
Produced byShalini Kantayya
Release dates
  • January 2020 (2020-01) (Sundance)
  • November 11, 2020 (2020-11-11)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States

Coded Bias is an American documentary film directed by Shalini Kantayya that premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.[1] The film includes contributions from researchers Joy Buolamwini, Deborah Raji, Meredith Broussard, Cathy O’Neil, Zeynep Tufekci, Safiya Noble, Timnit Gebru, Virginia Eubanks, and Silkie Carlo, among others.[2]


Kantayya has a long list of other works which include directing for the National Geographic television series Breakthrough as well as a documentary titled Catching the Sun. She is also an associate of the UC Berkeley graduate school of Journalism. Kantayya was introduced to the idea of Coded Bias recently and explains in an interview with 500 Global on August 17, 2021, that three years ago she did not even know what an algorithm was.[3] She has always had a fascination with science fiction and how technology will affect the near future. She read the book Weapons of Math Destruction, which is where she learned about how artificial intelligence, machine learning, and algorithms determine outcomes for certain people. She was intrigued by how humans outsource these decisions to machines and how these decisions can greatly impact someone's life. The director came across the work of Joy Buolamwini through a Ted Talk. After seeing this Ted Talk, Kantayya was shocked about how these systems have not been vetted for racial bias, unintended consequences and even accuracy.


This documentary goes into detail about artificial intelligence and the bias that is embedded into this technology. MIT media researcher Joy Buolamwini's computer science studies uncovered that her face was unrecognizable in many facial recognition programs and she was motivated to find out why. She gains momentum in her research when she realized that facial recognition programs didn't work on her own face, but worked when she wore a white mask. This shocking discovery only made her more intrigued about how else artificial technology was affecting minorities.[4]

Coded Bias takes its viewers all over the world to witness how artificial intelligence, algorithms, and power are proving to be a worrisome combination. The most common and concerning theme about this technology is that it lacks legal structure and has shown that human rights are being violated. It was explained how algorithms and artificial intelligence discriminates by race and gender statuses in many domains such as: housing, career opportunities, healthcare, credit, education, and legalities.[5] As Joy Buolamwini began networking with other concerned and educated individuals, a shared goal was to bring awareness to this uncharted territory. Buolamwini and her colleagues celebrated a victory after she was asked to testify in front of congress about artificial intelligence. Knowing that this was just the beginning of a bigger battle, Buolamwini was aware that she had more work ahead of her and created the Algorithmic Justice League.[6]


The film first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020.[7] It had a limited release on November 11, 2020, before a full release in virtual cinemas across North America on November 18, 2020.[8][9] The limited release garnered a box office revenue of $10,236.[9] On April 5, 2021, the documentary was made available to stream on Netflix.[10]


Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100% based on 43 reviews with an average rating of 7.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Clear, concise, and comprehensive, Coded Bias offers a chilling look at largely unseen side effects of modern society's algorithmic underpinnings." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100 based on 7 critic reviews.

In a review written for the New York Times, Devika Girish states "The film moves deftly between pragmatic and larger political critiques, arguing that it’s not just that the tech is faulty; even if it were perfect, it would infringe dangerously on people’s liberties."[11]

Praising the documentary for its "impressive pacing," Nick Allen, writing for states "One might expect a documentary about data and algorithms to run a bit dry, but “Coded Bias” defies that by having a lot on its mind and by being quick on its feet, hopping all over the country, and the world."[12]

In the review from website, Society for Social Studies of Science, Renee Shelby goes into detail about the film and the issues touched in it, and even questioned readers if they really understand the power abused through this data collection. She states "Where there is power, there is resistance to power; and the film touches on politics “from above” and “from below.” The film showcases women's activism and social movements (e.g., the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement) fighting to ensure that surveillance and other algorithmic tools are not abused.".[13]

Giving the documentary a 2.5 out of 5 stars, Ashley Sosa, writing for, states "The documentary's cautionary message about the dangers of algorithmic bias is presented in an engaging and humanistic way. Technical details are kept to a minimum, which could be viewed as positive or negative depending on prior knowledge and interest."[14]


Award Year Category Result Ref(s).
Calgary International Film Festival 2020 Best International Documentary Won [15]
Cinema Eye Honors Awards 2021 Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation Nominated [16]
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards 2020 Best Science/Nature Documentary Nominated [17]
Hamptons International Film Festival New York Women in Film & Television Award Won [18]
International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights 2021 Grand Reportage World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) Award Won [19]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Documentary (Film) Nominated [20]
Sundance Film Festival 2020 US Documentary Grand Jury Prize Nominated [21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Friday, Dana Kendall; January 31st; 2020. "Now Streaming: 'Coded Bias' Exposes Tech Made without Women and BIPOC in Mind". Retrieved 2020-12-05.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "Documentary Review: Coded Bias". Society for Social Studies of Science. 2021-03-15. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  3. ^ Coded Bias: Film Screening and Director Q+A, retrieved 2021-11-10
  4. ^ "About". CODED BIAS. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  5. ^ "code-for-bias". Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  6. ^ "Coded Bias | Films | PBS". Independent Lens. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  7. ^ "When Bias Is Coded Into Our Technology". Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  8. ^ Trahan, Erin (18 November 2020). "Documentary 'Coded Bias' Unmasks The Racism Of Artificial Intelligence". WBUR. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Coded Bias (2020) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  10. ^ Trenholm, Richard (31 March 2021). "Eye-opening documentary Coded Bias, streaming on Netflix April 5, faces racist technology". CNET. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  11. ^ Girish, Devika (2020-11-11). "'Coded Bias' Review: When the Bots Are Racist". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  12. ^ Allen, Nick. "Coded Bias movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  13. ^ "Documentary Review: Coded Bias". Society for Social Studies of Science. 2021-03-15. Retrieved 2021-11-09.
  14. ^ Sosa, Ashley (2021-10-12). "Coded Bias". Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  15. ^ "Calgary International Film Festival 2020 – Coded Bias". Calgary International Film Festival. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Cinema Eye Unveils Full Slate of Nominees for 14th Annual Nonfiction Honors". Cinema Eye Honors. 10 December 2020. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  17. ^ "Critics Choice Documentary Awards | Critics Choice Awards". Critics Choice Awards. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  18. ^ Titcomb, Isabelle (15 October 2020). "Two WMM Filmmakers Receive Awards from NYWIFT at the Hamptons International Film Festival". Women Make Movies. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  19. ^ "The FIFDH unveils its 2021 awards list". Fondation FIFDH. 2021-03-13. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  20. ^ "2021 Nominees". NAACP Image Awards. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  21. ^ "Coded Bias". Sundance Institute. Retrieved 4 February 2021.

External links[edit]