The Human Rights Watch Film Festival has moved online this year and while the festival did start on June 11th, it continues on until June 20th. For this ten day event those who wish to participate can purchase tickets to stream the films included in the lineup. I admittedly was not able to check out some of these films until after the festival started so in order to share my thoughts before it ends I wanted to release a showcase of the two I did have a chance to watch.
Belly of the Beast streamed on the opening night of the festival. This film examines the lives of women inside the California penal system who have been working tirelessly with women on the outside to uncover systematic abuse. This abuse though is something truly unimaginable, the force sterilization of countless prisoners. Director Erika Cohn’s work focuses on Kelli Dillon, a black mother who was told that she needed surgery for cysts while incarcerated, but at the age of 24 when she began experiencing strange symptoms she learned she had been given a hysterectomy. After learning this she found a way to begin working with Justice Now, a legal aid organization that was founded by Cynthia Chandler. This is a film that feels very tied to the current climate of the world where the BLM movement has been finally gaining a larger stage. With more people learning about the systemic racism apparent in the United States and pushing to try and finally create change Belly of the Beast shows how eugenics has been able to extend into the modern day through racist practices. This film shows just how truly the penal system is tied to racist ideology.
Coded Bias is another film that examines biases and practices that are tied to racist and sexist beliefs. Joy Buolamwini, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, begins the film and while working she realizes that most facial recognition software does not recognize darker-skinned or female faces. As the film continues it is revealed that AI is not a neutral tool, but instead it leans into the inequalities in society. Director Shalini Kantayya has brought this story forward to present reasons why AI and facial recognition is not a solution that should be implemented. Beyond that it further supports why some places have already banned this software. As someone who is always a bit leery of advances in technology that seem to focus on a heightened level of observation and identity as something that can be used by AI, I was very interested in this film. This is a very informative film and I found myself very invested in learning more about this issue and how the coding for this has continued to push forward racial and sexist ideas.
You can access these films and more through https://www.hrwfilmfestivalstream.org/ . There are limited numbers of tickets available for the films, but they are available.