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Directed by Ursula Liang

SDAFF was thrilled to have a LIVE Q&A on SUN Oct 25 @3:30PM (PT) with director Ursula Liang, DJ Kuttin Kandi from Asian Solidarity Collective, and Jesse Mills, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of San Diego.

* This film is available to view only on SUN 10/25, from 12:00am to 11:59pm (PT).

Official Selection, 2020 BlackStar Film Festival
Official Selection, 2020 True/False Film Festival 


In November 2014, Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man, was killed by Peter Liang, a Chinese American police officer, in a Brooklyn stairwell. The killing mobilized a community demanding justice for yet another innocent dead at the hands of the NYPD. But it surprisingly also awakened another faction: Chinese Americans who claimed that Liang was a convenient scapegoat because he was Asian.

On the surface, there are two sides. But what makes DOWN A DARK STAIRWELL such a captivating, muscle-tensing, soul-testing, powerfully compassionate, and even hopeful experience, are the moments the sides crack just enough for invigorated political energies to converge as solidarity. In the crevices are the Asian American activists, mostly younger, who march for Black lives. Or the seasoned Chinatown defenders who grapple with defining Asian American political agency without diminishing the tragedy of a murder. Or the Black activist who argues against the use of “model minority” language to criticize Chinese American protesters on the other side. These moments imagine solidarity at a critical moment when the Black community is invisible to many Asian Americans, and the Asian community is invisible to African Americans, to say nothing of their collective diminishing by white supremacy. And in these moments, solidarity stops being a slogan and is revealed as work: tough, contentious, spirit-flexing work.

With that same dedication, Ursula Liang (9-Man, SDAFF ’14) balances these gargantuan forces, while never shying away from the political stakes of justice for Gurley and the Black community. The film is quintessentially 2020, but it’s also the most important and agenda-setting Asian American documentary since Who Killed Vincent Chin?, confronting the fact that the answer to invisibility is not merely presence, but working with others whose humanity has also been made invisible, so we can show up together and collectively be impossible to ignore. 

Brian Hu