Down a Dark Stairwell Town Hall

April 8, 2021
3:00pm Pacific Time
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Please join a Town Hall featuring selections from the documentary film Down a Dark Stairwell just days before the national PBS premiere on Independent Lens.

In a time of escalating violence against Asian Americans, our hope is to raise consciousness, forge partnerships and engage people across the country in civic dialogue. The roundtable conversation among national community leaders will explore the themes of the film and the broader cultural and historical context of today's tragic headlines.

The roundtable will be moderated by celebrated author Jeff Chang and will feature panelists Cynthia Choi (Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action), Robeson Taj Frazier (Associate Professor of Communication, USC Annenberg), Hua Hsu (Staff Writer, The New Yorker and Associate Professor of English, Vassar College), Bo Thao-Urabe (Executive Director, Coalition of Asian American Leaders), and Down a Dark Stairwell filmmaker Ursula Liang.

About the film:

On a fall day in 2014, Peter Liang, a Chinese American police officer, shot and killed an innocent, unarmed black man named Akai Gurley. Unfolding in the dark stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project, the shooting inflamed the residents of New York City and thrust two marginalized communities into the uneven criminal justice system together.

In the wake of Gurley’s death, cries of police brutality rang out to join a chorus protesting the recent police killings of two other unarmed black men in Staten Island and Ferguson, Missouri. Liang, 28, had joined a high-decibel national conversation about race and the justice system, one that got louder and angrier just days later when an officer in Cleveland, Ohio, shot and killed a 12-year-old African American boy playing with a toy gun. In this raging, anguished debate, a rallying point was the pronounced pattern of police officers, mostly white, avoiding criminal prosecution. Liang, however, was hit with a charge of manslaughter and, triggering a fresh wave of debate, became the first NYPD officer in over a decade to hear a guilty verdict in such a case.

ASL interpreters will be present at this event.

Down a Dark Stairwell will premiere on Independent Lens on April 12th on your local PBS station, and on PBS Passport.

Learn more about Down a Dark Stairwell on the Independent Lens website:

Check local listings:

Screening Partners:

The Center for Asian American Media -

Georgia Public Broadcasting -


Twin Cities PBS -

WORLD Channel -

Video Descriptions

OVEE TitleCard

10 MIN

Filmmaker Introduction

Ursula Liang introduces her film Down a Dark Stairwell

Judy Chu

Judy Chu

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33min 10sec


  • Jeff Chang

  • Michael

  • Beatriz

  • Emmalee Hackshaw

  • Carly Nelson Marcoe - ITVS

  • Judy Tsang

  • Sherry

  • Down A Dark Stairwell


  • Jeff Chang

    Jeff Chang’s first book "Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation", named one of the best nonfiction books of the last quarter century. A revised Young Adult edition of the book—co-written with legendary hip-hop journalist Dave “Davey D” Cook—was published in 2021. His other books include "Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post Civil Rights America," and "We Gon' Be Alright: Notes On Race and Resegregation." In May 2019, he and director Bao Nguyen created a four-episode digital series adaptation of the latter for PBS Indie Lens Storycast. Jeff is featured in the PBS documentary series, "Asian Americans." Recently he helped to write the "Cultural New Deal" alongside a number of artists and culture bearers. A national leader in narrative and cultural strategy, Jeff co-founded "CultureStr/ke" and "ColorLines." He was named by The Utne Reader as one of "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World" and by KQED as an Asian Pacific American Local Hero. He has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature, a winner of the Asian American Literary Award, and was named to the Frederick Douglass 200.

  • Hua Hsu

    Hua Hsu is a staff writer at the New Yorker. He is the author of 'A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific' and the forthcoming memoir 'Stay True.' He teaches in the English Department at Vassar College. He serves on the boards of the Asian American Writers Workshop and Critical Minded, a new initiative to support cultural critics of color in the United States.

  • Robeson Taj Frazier

    Robeson Taj Frazier is an associate professor of communication and director of IDEA (the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg). He is the author of two books, a multimedia/film producer, and has published articles and essays about U.S. Black social movements and political ideologies, globalization, fine arts, popular culture, and U.S.-China relations and cultural contact. His most recent work, KAOS Theory: The Afrokosmic Ark of Ben Caldwell (forthcoming), is a book and media arts platform that explores the creative contributions and philosophical insights of Los Angeles filmmaker and multimedia artist Ben Caldwell and the community arts organization he founded, KAOS Network. Frazier's first book, The East is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination (Duke University Press, 2014), analyzes the political and cultural ties cultivated between China and U.S. Black political movements during the Cold War, and the role that travel, media and representation played in this process. His second project, It’s Yours: A Story About Hip Hop and the Internet (2019), is a documentary film that examines how hip-hop artists’ and the broader global hip-hop community’s use of the Internet and digital technologies has revolutionized the music industry and global youth culture. Frazier was raised in New York City, Washington D.C., and Montclair, New Jersey, obtaining his BA in Africana studies and international relations at the University of Pennsylvania and his PhD in African Diaspora studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Before joining USC Annenberg, he taught at New York University, Princeton University, and CUNY-Bronx Community College; served as a history, arts and culture instructor in Oakland and New York City public schools; and created music and performed as an emcee/rapper, independently releasing two albums and a mixtape.

  • Bo Thao-Urabe

    Bo is a practice-based possibilian who focuses on creating community-centered, asset-based solutions and transforming practices so that there are meaningful changes for those most impacted by systemic inequities. Today she is the Senior Programs Strategist at the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund and also the Executive and Network Director at the Coalition of Asian-American Leaders (CAAL) based in Minnesota. Before joining CAAL, she served as Senior Director at Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. Bo co-founded Building More Philanthropy with Purpose (BMPP) Giving Circle, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, RedGreen Rivers, Building Our Future: A Global Community Campaign, and Hmong Women Achieving Together. Bo serves on the Boards of Drake Bank, The Minneapolis Foundation, and Propel Nonprofits, and has been widely recognized for her leadership and impact. Most recently she received the Facing Race Award, was named Minnesota Business Magazine’s Real Power 50, Twin Cities Business Magazine’s 100 People to Know, and received a Bush Fellowship.

  • Cynthia Choi

    Cynthia Choi is the Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a community based civil rights organization committed to protecting the dignity and fair treatment of all immigrants and fulfilling the promise of a multi-racial democracy. CAA is one of the founders of Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative that was formed to address anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. She has over 30 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector and over 20 years serving in leadership positions. Cynthia has led local, state and national community based organizations and initiatives working on a range of issues from reproductive justice, gender violence, violence prevention, immigrant/refugee rights and environmental justice issues. She is a daughter of immigrants, raising three daughters of her own and is deeply committed to creating a world that is socially just.

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The views and opinions expressed in this online screening are those of the presenters and participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of ITVS, public broadcasting, or any entities hosting the screening.