Down a Dark Stairwell: Opening Night Screening and Live Panel

USA202083 minEnglish, Cantonese, Mandarin with English SubtitlesDocumentary, Reel Asian Award Winner, Women Filmmakers


Down a Dark Stairwell takes a nuanced and careful look at the events following the 2014 case where Akai Gurley was shot and killed in the stairwell of an apartment building by Chinese-American NYPD officer Peter Liang.

Director Ursula Liang (no relation to Peter) and her crew follow the Black Lives Matter protests rallying around Gurley’s family to support a conviction, while also following various predominantly Asian American communities’ protest responses to what they deem an unfair trial.

In our current context of urgent calls for accountability around excessive police violence, Down A Dark Stairwell’s raw and honest witness to the ways racial politics fissure and divide us feels timely and necessary. In documenting multiple communities’ response to every new development from the event, the film contends with how fraught and limited notions of justice can be, and the devastating violence that the policing system inflicts on Black communities.

- Jasmine Gui


True/False Film Festival, 2020
Visions du Réel, 2020
Blackstar Film Festival, 2020

Best Documentary, Ashland Independent Film Festival 2020
The Truth to Power Award, Reel Asian 2020

Director Bio

Ursula Liang

Ursula Liang is a journalist-turned-filmmaker. After working in print (ESPN The Magazine, T: The New York Times Magazine), she directed two critically-acclaimed feature documentaries, 9-Man and Down a Dark Stairwell. Ursula lives in the Bronx, N.Y.

12 Nov, 2020 7:00 pm

to 13 Nov, 2020 7:00 pm

Content warning: Events surrounding killing by police

Live Panel Discussion, November 12 at 8:45PM
Contact Active Listener (November 12, 8:30-11:30PM)


With Support From

ASL Interpretation provided at live panel by
Toronto Sign Language Interpreter Service

Live panel discussion with special guests

Accompanying our opening night screening presentation of Down a Dark Stairwell is a live online discussion with special guests.

ASL interpretation supported and made available by Toronto Sign Language Interpreter Services. Active listener available from 8:30PM – 11:30PM.

Click here to contact the Active Listener. Contact and communication is confidential.

November 12, 2020 at 9 PM

Nataleah Hunter-Young, Writer and Film Curator

Nataleah Hunter-Young is a writer, film curator, and PhD candidate researching Black aesthetic practice and representations of mediated police brutality in contemporary art. She has supported festival programming for TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa.

Syrus Marcus Ware, Activist and Artist

Syrus Marcus Ware is a Vanier scholar, visual artist, activist, curator and educator. Syrus uses painting, installation and performance to explore social justice frameworks and black activist culture. He is part of the Performance Disability Art Collective and a core-team member of Black Lives Matter – Toronto. 

Ursula Liang, Director of Down A Dark Stairwell

Ursula Liang is a journalist-turned-filmmaker. After working in print (ESPN The Magazine, T: The New York Times Magazine), she directed two critically-acclaimed feature documentaries, 9-Man and Down a Dark Stairwell. Ursula lives in the Bronx, N.Y.

J.M. Harper, Co-writer and Editor of Down a Dark Stairwell

J.M. Harper is a documentarian. Down A Dark Stairwell is his third documentary feature as editor. He’s currently editing a feature documentary about Kanye West. His work has been featured on AdWeek, Vimeo Staff Picks, FADER and the Guggenheim.

Michelle Chang, Co-writer and Editor of Down a Dark Stairwell

Michelle Chang is a Brooklyn-based editor of documentary features as well as short form projects. Feature credits include When Claude Got Shot, Harbor From the Holocaust, 9-MAN, Like Any Other Kid, (A)Sexual, American Promise (Additional Editor for POV Broadcast, Emmy nomination). Before becoming an editor, Michelle was an associate producer for ABC News “20/20” and “Primetime.”

Director note:

This case captured the attention of national media and highlighted what we in our respective communities have known for a long time: we are not united. In fact, in low whispers with problematic language, we often talk about one another. But what we are not talking about is the many reasons why this space between us exists: bubbles created by social media filters and propaganda, white supremacy, structural oppression, social inequality and isolation.

I want to learn from these conversations. To look at how the complexities of this case reflect the complexities of our fight for humanity, agency and respect. To talk about whether the battles we fight bring us power or dissipate it. And to examine who really benefits when marginalized groups are divided.

- Ursula Liang

Extra Resources

This is a non-exhaustive community resource list to complement the discussion around Down a Dark Stairwell (2020).


This short resource guide makes clear the importance of human engagement with the politics of living in the world around us. As a pan-Asian-centered festival, we have human relations with the world around us behind the screen and view our programming as an important public-facing conversation that moves us towards deep thinking and the work of repair.



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