Coded Bias

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Coded Bias
Film poster
Directed byShalini Kantayya
Produced byShalini Kantayya
7th Empire Media
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, and others.[2]


Kantayya previously directed a documentary titled Catching the Sun and also directed one episode of the National Geographic television series, Breakthrough.[3][4] She is also an associate of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.[5] Kantayya said an interview with 500 Global on August 17, 2021, that three years previously she did not even know what an algorithm was.[6] She read the book Weapons of Math Destruction, which describes how artificial intelligence, machine learning, and algorithms can determine outcomes for certain people. She later came across the work of Joy Buolamwini through a Ted Talk.


The documentary is about artificial intelligence and the biases that can be embedded into this technology. MIT media researcher Joy Buolamwini's computer science studies uncovered that her face was unrecognizable in many facial recognition systems and she worked to find out why these systems failed. She later found that facial recognition programs only worked when she wore a white mask. She goes on to find out about how else artificial technology can affect minorities.[7]

Coded Bias says that there is a lack of legal structures for artificial intelligence, and that as a result, human rights are being violated. It says that some algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies discriminate by race and gender statuses in domains such as housing, career opportunities, healthcare, credit, education, and legalities.[8] Buolamwini and her colleagues were later asked to testify in front of the US Congress about artificial intelligence. Buolamwini subsequently created a digital advocacy group, the Algorithmic Justice League.[9]


The film first premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in January 2020.[10] It had a limited release on November 11, 2020, before a full release in virtual cinemas across North America on November 18, 2020.[11][12] The limited release garnered a box office revenue of $10,236.[12] On April 5, 2021, the documentary was made available to stream on Netflix.[13]


Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100% based on 52 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."[14] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100 based on seven critic reviews.[15]

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."[16]

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."[17]

In the review from the website of the Society for Social Studies of Science, Renee Shelby questioned whether readers understood the power she said was 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.".[2]

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."[18]


Award Year Category Result Ref(s).
Asian American International Film Festival 2020 Emerging Director Award Nominated [19]
Calgary International Film Festival Best International Documentary Won [20]
Cinema Eye Honors Awards 2021 Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation Nominated [21]
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards 2020 Best Science/Nature Documentary Nominated [22]
Hamptons International Film Festival New York Women in Film & Television Award Won [23]
International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights 2021 Grand Reportage World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) Award Won [24]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Documentary (Film) Nominated [25]
News and Documentary Emmy Awards Outstanding Science and Technology Documentary Nominated [26]
Social Impact Media Awards Best Director Won [27]
Grand Jury Prize for Transparency Won
Best Sound Design Won
Sundance Film Festival 2020 US Documentary Grand Jury Prize Nominated [28]
Woodstock Film Festival Best Documentary Feature Honorable Mention [29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kendall, Dana (January 31, 2020). "Now Streaming: 'Coded Bias' Exposes Tech Made without Women and BIPOC in Mind". Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  2. ^ a b "Documentary Review: Coded Bias". Society for Social Studies of Science. 2021-03-15. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  3. ^ Staff, T. H. R. (2016-04-07). "'Catching the Sun': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2022-09-05.
  4. ^ "Shalini Kantayya". IMDb. Retrieved 2022-09-05.
  5. ^ "ABOUT". SHALINI KANTAYYA . Film Director & Producer. Retrieved 2022-09-05.
  6. ^ Coded Bias: Film Screening and Director Q+A, retrieved 2021-11-10
  7. ^ "About". CODED BIAS. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  8. ^ "code-for-bias". Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  9. ^ "Coded Bias | Films | PBS". Independent Lens. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  10. ^ "When Bias Is Coded Into Our Technology". Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  11. ^ Trahan, Erin (18 November 2020). "Documentary 'Coded Bias' Unmasks The Racism Of Artificial Intelligence". WBUR. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  12. ^ a b "Coded Bias (2020) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  13. ^ Trenholm, Richard (31 March 2021). "Eye-opening documentary Coded Bias, streaming on Netflix April 5, faces racist technology". CNET. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  14. ^ Coded Bias at Rotten Tomatoes Edit this at Wikidata
  15. ^ Coded Bias at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  16. ^ Girish, Devika (2020-11-11). "'Coded Bias' Review: When the Bots Are Racist". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  17. ^ Allen, Nick. "Coded Bias movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  18. ^ Sosa, Ashley (2021-10-12). "Coded Bias". Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  19. ^ "Jurors & Awards". Asian American International Film Festival. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  20. ^ "Calgary International Film Festival 2020 – Coded Bias". Calgary International Film Festival. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  21. ^ "Cinema Eye Unveils Full Slate of Nominees for 14th Annual Nonfiction Honors". Cinema Eye Honors. 10 December 2020. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  22. ^ "Critics Choice Documentary Awards | Critics Choice Awards". Critics Choice Awards. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ "The FIFDH unveils its 2021 awards list". Fondation FIFDH. 2021-03-13. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  25. ^ "2021 Nominees". NAACP Image Awards. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  26. ^ Algorithmic Justice League (27 Sep 2022). ""Coded Bias" Receives News & Documentary Emmy® Awards Nomination". PR Newswire. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  27. ^ "Awards". Coded Bias. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  28. ^ "Coded Bias". Sundance Institute. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  29. ^ "2020 Maverick Awards". Woodstock Film Festival. 2 Oct 2020. Retrieved 2 March 2023.

External links[edit]