Introduced by the Chair of the Sundance Board of Trustees, Pat Mitchell, and moderated by AAPF’s Executive Director, Kimberlé Crenshaw, “The Story of Us” forcefully confronts the roots and implications of the stories America tells about itself. To facilitate this provocative conversation, AAPF and Sundance brought together some of the era’s brightest thinkers on race, history, and storytelling: Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy; Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer; Ruha Benjamin, professor and author of the award-winning book Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code; and David Blight, professor and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.


“The Story of Us'' grapples with the connections between the first few Wednesdays of January 2021. What the events of those three days made clear is that we are living in a moment defined by the power of stories—even stories far removed from facts—to create altered realities. The conversation we will share on February 24th examines the history of Hollywood’s role in constructing America’s grand narratives and the implications for the future of the storytelling industry. 


It is a conversation that tries to tell a fuller story of “who we are.” It’s a conversation that says, resoundingly: This IS America.


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Pat Mitchell is the editorial director of TEDWomen. Throughout her career as a journalist, Emmy-winning producer, and pioneering executive, she has focused on sharing women’s stories. She is chair of the Sundance and the Women’s Media Center boards and a trustee of the VDAY movement, the Skoll Foundation, and the Acumen Fund. She is an advisor to Participant Media and served as a congressional appointment to The American Museum of Women’s History Advisory Council. She is the author of Becoming a Dangerous Woman: Embracing Risk to Change the World.

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Ruha Benjamin is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab, and author of the award-winning book Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, among many other publications. Her work investigates the social dimensions of science, medicine, and technology, with a focus on the relationship between innovation and inequity, health and justice, and knowledge and power.

Visit www.ruhabenjamin.com to learn more.


David W. Blight is the Sterling Professor of history and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom; American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; and Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. He has annotated editions of Douglass’s first two autobiographies. Blight has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, among others.


Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and numerous other awards. His other books are The Refugees (a short-story collection); Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in general nonfiction); and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. His next book, The Committed, is the sequel to The Sympathizer and will be released in March 2021.

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Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and the author of the bestselling book, Just Mercy. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.