Down a Dark Stairwell

Insights | Impact

Akai Gurley was shot to death in the unlit stairway of the Brooklyn housing project where he lived, November 20, 2014. Akai was a young black male. His killer was a police officer, a rookie who claimed his gun went off in a misfire. This came in the wake of a summer of conflagration in Ferguson. To the surprise and relief of many, the officer was charged with manslaughter. But there was another salient factor in this case: the cop was Chinese-American, Peter Liang. On the streets, Black Lives Matter advocates faced Asian American protesters who claimed Liang was just another scapegoat.

Artfully filmed by Ursula Liang (no relation), Down a Dark Stairwell illuminates the nuances routinely overlooked in such heavily politicized cases: the validity of African American grievances around a perceived lack of support from the Asian community, for example; and the hateful threats Asian-American BLM supporters received from their own. Evenhanded and clear-sighted, this is an important film about the need for common cause.

"A vital picture of a tumultuous time." - Alissa Wilkinson, Vox


Includes an interview with Director: Ursula Liang, Editor: Jason Harpe

Canadian premiere
Director Icon Director
Ursula Liang
Executive Producer Sally Jo Fifer, Lois Vossen
Producer Ursula Liang, Rajal Pitroda
Screenwriter Michelle Chang, Jason Harper, Ursula Liang
Cinematographer Lyric R. Cabral, Vanessa Carr, Tinx Chan, Jason Chau, Brian Chu, Nausheen Dadabhoy, Justin Ervin, Asad Faruqi, Derek Howard, Rachel Lears, Ursula Liang, Nelson Walker III
Editor Michelle Chang, Jason Harper
Music Andrew Orkin
Production Company PLAG DOCUMENTARY LLC, Center for Asian American Media, ITVS
Source Ursula Liang
USA 2020 84 min. English, Cantonese, Mandarin with English subtitles Review | Review


Please note that VIFF 2020 online films can be viewed in British Columbia only.

Liang, Ursula headshot


Photo: ©Alan Jacobsen