The 2023 Dortort Lecture in the Dramatic Arts: What happens when technology encroaches on our social system?
140 Convent Avenue
New York, NY 10031
Kantayya’s newest film TikTok, Boom. investigates TikTok’s algorithm and users to paint a picture of the world’s most downloaded app, and how we can wield it more safely and ethically. Her previous award-winning film Coded Bias reveals the deep-seated biases behind our computers, illuminating unasked questions about prejudice in tech—Vice called it “the most important film about AI you can watch today.”
As technology improves at a whirlwind pace, questions of ethics and safety seem to go unanswered. With care, nuance and integrity, award-winning director Shalini Kantayya investigates these questions through a critical lens, uncovering the opportunities and dangers behind the code and looking ahead to the future of tech. Her newest documentary TikTok, Boom investigates hot topics like geopolitics, data privacy, censorship and social justice activism—wrapped up in the fascinating personal stories of three Gen Z influencers and an array of expert opinions. Kantayya captures the thrills and challenges of living in an internet-oriented landscape, demonstrating that social media is a powerful force for good if we can learn to wield it well.
Her previous critically acclaimed documentary Coded Bias reveals that machine-learning algorithms—intended to avoid prejudice—are only as unbiased as the humans and data sets programming them. Praised by The New York Times as “the most cleareyed of several recent documentaries about the perils of Big Tech,” the film follows the young Black women data scientists at MIT who found that AI facial recognition was biased against Black skin, which led to a deeper worldwide investigation about bias, race, ethics, social justice, and technology.
Kantayya’s production company 7th Empire Media works to create a culture of human rights through imaginative media. Also an eco-activist, Kantayya knows sustainable energy isn’t just right for the environment, but also promises untold economic opportunities. In her feature documentary Catching the Sun, she tells a modern story of innovation—one that’s disrupting outmoded industries and putting power into the hands of those who need it most. It explores the race for the clean energy future through the stories of solar entrepreneurs in the U.S. and China. The film premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick. It’s also part of American Film Showcase, and will be shown at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the world. The film won the Best Feature award at the San Francisco Green Film Festival, and was released globally on Netflix with Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio. Catching the Sun has been nominated by the Environmental Media Association for the EMA Award for Best Documentary, and has been translated into 35 languages.
Recently, Kantayya directed Breakthrough for National Geographic: a series profiling trailblazing scientists who will transform our future (Executive Produced by Ron Howard). Her award-winning sci-fi film about the world water crisis, A Drop of Life, was broadcast on national television in the U.S. and India. A Drop of Life was used as a tool to organize for water rights in 40 villages across Africa—making a real-world impact in the lives of thousands. Kantayya finished in the top 10 out of 12,000 filmmakers on Fox’s On the Lot, a show by Steven Spielberg in search of Hollywood’s next great director.
Kantayya is a Sundance Fellow and a TED Fellow. She was also a finalist for the ABC/Disney Directing Program. A William D. Fulbright Scholar, she has lectured at Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and USC, among others. She has received recognition from the Sundance Documentary Program, IFP Spotlight on Documentary, New York Women in Film and Television, and the Jerome Hill Centennial. Kantayya is a 2005 City College of New York graduate in the MFA Film Program.