For so long, we’ve been attempting to dismantle centuries of issues that have arisen from superiority and prejudice, the conscious efforts to marginalise others. From the fight to end of apartheid in South Africa, to the Black Lives Matter movement, to a spike in hate crimes after Boris Johnson’s “letterboxes” speech, racism is a clear example of deep-rooted and normalised bias.
What we are uncovering more recently is the concept of ‘implicit bias’, the underlying remnants of this skewed society on even the most verbally open-minded people. According to the experts interviewed in Robin Hauser’s latest feature, even this unconscious perception can have a similar impact, hurting people in a way we may not recognise at first glance.
As we become more socially aware, we run the risk of considering ourselves completely fair, when neurologically, that is almost impossible. The tribal instinct that thrived in our ancestors means we are naturally suspicious of those different to us, and more likely to aid people within our own group. So the next step, as Hauser shows, is recognising this element of human nature and finding out how we can counterbalance it.
The strongest segments of Bias lie within the platform given to social scientists and researchers, and their simple yet shocking tests. Even on repetition it’s hard to escape an association e.g. with women and the home, or with weapons on black individuals. It builds up its case like a carefully constructed essay, using clips from popular media, and of company case studies to drive home the impact of this underlying issue.
The film takes a rational, almost frustratingly apolitical approach to this, working within the confines of an American society that insists police be armed, and views venture capitalists as a benchmark of success. For anyone well-read on the subject, or those in minorities more likely to easily see this bias, the documentary doesn’t offer much in the way of wholly new information. It takes a more optimistic approach, less weighed down by those who lose out in this system, instead electing to focus on solutions. From blind auditions to streamlined neighbourhood reporting, it looks to ways of managing this injustice.
The closest Bias comes to examining the roots of prejudice is through the angle of artificial intelligence which almost mirrors our biological roots. Just like a toddler’s brain absorbs a huge amount of information at a young age, shaping its adult brain, an AI relies on the data it is given to make future judgements. This is an important distinction for people who come to rely on artificial intelligence without recognising humans who build it can install their flaws. However, anyone who remembers news stories like this, isn’t likely to be as surprised.
Through a VR experiment that literally puts Robin in the body of a black woman, and puts her next to another black woman, we see how quickly she adopts her new friend’s mannerisms, and how physically walking in someone else’s shoes can abate innate racial bias. At the end of the day, finding ways to exercise your brain’s natural empathy, and introduce it to a more diverse data set of humanity, you can begin to correct the bug in your system. It is fascinating to see this scientifically proven, but equally this message relates to the foundation of Screen Queens itself. If you’re reading our work, and watching the films we promote, you’d probably already be doing your best to inhabit new perspectives. Whether it is looking into the soul of a Barry Jenkins character, or living in Céline Sciamma’s exclusively female world, Bias reinforces what we’ve been saying. Is it really so monumental to say “force yourself to see their point of view?” and was this virtual blackface really necessary to prove that?
Given the privileged lens of its director, and its 90-minute run time, we only begin to glimpse the possibilities of a reformed society. As Bias hands over the microphone to professionals and people of colour, this well-intentioned white woman’s journey is one more need to take. The lack of “finger-pointing” is particularly worthwhile for viewers who would shut down at any implication of racism. Bias celebrates important turning points, and does its utmost to show us these inherent flaws to work on, but it is just the tip of the iceberg, as its director and protagonist catches up with this ongoing revolution.
Bias is available on VOD now
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens. Her favourite films do fluctuate but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and on Twitter here.