Coded Bias. Directed by Shalini Kantayya. New York: Women Make Movies, 2020. 90 minutes.

Digital Warriors: Women Changing the World. Directed by Bettina Kolb and Eva Richter. Bonn, Germany: Deutsche Welle, 2018. 53 minutes.

World of Apps. Directed by Paul Zisiwe and Gautam Lewis. Oley, PA: Bullfrog Films, 2013. 27 minutes.

Reviewed by Latoya Lee

At the New York University Institute for the Humanities conference in 1978, Audre Lorde shared what is now a popular quote, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (2007 [1984], 111). When Lorde stated this, she was speaking about the importance of recognizing the role of differences—of race, class, sexuality, and age—amongst women. She explains that the way to break from racist patriarchy and white supremacy is to unite and celebrate our differences because liberation can only be achieved through interdependency between women. In this speech, Lorde is referring to those (women) who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. However, as Lorde suggests, we should also find support in each other; such nurturing is redemptive and where our real power lies. According to Lorde, a patriarchal world fears this connection, and too often we are encouraged to ignore differences (to be colorblind) or meet them with suspicion (McGhee 2021). Consequently, Lorde argues that while the master’s tools may allow us to beat him at his own game, it is only temporary: it will never allow for genuine change or for the “house” to be fully dismantled because we are missing opportunities to build with each other. I was reminded of Lorde’s quote as I watched the three films under review for this paper, as they explore the ways the tools of digital technology (including but not limited to social media, mobile apps, algorithms, and biometric technology) are being used to challenge inequity and construct inclusive and supportive communities.

Coded Bias, directed by Shalini Kantayya, introduces viewers to the notion of bias (racism, sexism, and misogyny) embedded in computer programs, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. This film spotlights that you cannot separate the social world from technology, which becomes evident as we learn that ideas about technology and society have materialized from a small homogenous group of thinkers. Everyone has unconscious biases, and in this case, it unfortunately directly impacts the people who are not among these thinkers, including people of color, women, poor folks, people in developing nations, and underserved and criminalized communities, to name a few. Since technology is often touted as being neutral and objective, the harm of these embedded biases often goes undetected, operating covertly; as a result, there is no system in place to hold that technology accountable for the inequitable conditions it creates. Alternatively, in the film we also see people building community, pushing back, and challenging the effect these technologies have, such as folks in the Algorithmic Justice League, a movement fighting to ensure social technology works for everyone.

Digital Warriors, directed by Bettina Kolb and Eva Richter, displays tenets of Lorde’s speech about building communities amongst differences, as it explores women from around the world who are using technology to challenge patriarchy and misogyny. These women have turned toward social media and personal blogs to network with women and others across the globe, denounce misogyny, and garner attention to gendered inequities in their home countries, including those related to Sharia law, femicide, genital mutilation, abortion rights, and the trauma of war. In addition, these women have faced the harms of technology as they have received threats of physical violence through social media, experienced cyberattacks by their government, and had false narratives circulated about them to discredit their work. However, social media remains a viable option to support activists building intergenerational communities, organizing action in real life, and connecting to millions worldwide as they fight for change. This film demonstrates the ways interdependency between women allows for the emergence of liberatory and creative visions.

The World of Apps, directed by Paul Zisiwe and Gautam Lewis, explores the creation of life apps for folks who have been left behind in the technological revolution. This film is the final episode in a series that challenges app developers around the globe to create a life app that will benefit local developing communities. The World of Apps complements the other films, as it allows for a conversation about the dual nature of this technology: on the one hand, it is constantly collecting data about us to use against us and, on the other hand, it can be used to make life easier, particularly for someone like a rural farmer in Kenya who can use a life app to access real-time crop prices in local markets. And the Stop and Search app, which allows users to navigate and document police stops, notifies users of their rights, tells them what they can do and say, records video, and documents someone’s location. While this film does not illustrate the harm of said technologies, it does create the space for us to examine the ways we can use technology to foster inclusion and equity.

When I teach, I emphasize the importance of critically engaging these digital technologies, including thinking about their duplexity that often operates simultaneously. For instance, these technologies have been shaped by historical inequities, yet they have also been resources for marginalized groups who use them in innovative ways to “level the playing field” or to “voice” their concerns and challenge systemic inequity. Using these films in the classroom, I would highlight the popular Audre Lorde quote, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and encourage students to ponder and debate the following:

  1. Explain the dual nature of these spaces.
  2. Can we discuss the duality of digital spaces as simply pros and cons or is it more complicated? Explain your answer.
  3. With the evident harm caused by these spaces, do they still serve us? Should we continue to engage in these spaces? Why or why not?
  4. How can these spaces be transformed (in creative ways) to better serve everyone?

Ultimately, in relation to each other, these films encourage us to view digital technology in its entirety. They also prompt us to be hypercritical of these technologies, noting that they are not neutral but filled with unconscious biases. Importantly, these films also allow us to think of alternatives, show that hope is not lost, and remind us that we do not need the “master’s house” as our only source of support; instead we can use these tools to connect with and support each other to fight against the inequities created by technologies and envision better ways they can serve us all.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. 2007 (1984). “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, 110-14. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press.

McGhee, Heather. 2021. “Why Saying ‘I don’t see race at all’ Just Makes Racism Worse.” IDEAS.TED.COM, March 3.

Suggested Readings

Bailey, Moya. 2021. Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance. New York: New York University Press.

Brock, André, Jr. 2020. Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures. New York: New York University Press.

Benjamin, Ruha. 2019. Race after Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Medford, MA: Polity.

Eubanks, Virginia. 2019. Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. New York: St. Martin’s.

Jackson, Sarah J., Moya Bailey, and Brooke Foucault Welles. 2020. #HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: New York University Press.

Tassie, Keisha Edwards, and Sonja M. Brown Givens, eds. 2015. Women of Color and Social Media Multitasking: Blogs, Timelines, Feeds, and Community. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Latoya Lee (she/her) ( is an assistant professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies and Queer Studies at Cal State Fullerton. Her research interests include Black feminisms and women of color feminisms, critical race theory, digital movements, and digital new media. Her current research focuses on the engagement with and contemporary uses of social media by BIPOC people in the United States. Her published work has analyzed online communities including Black Twitter, the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQIA, and natural hair blogs. Both her teaching and research are strongly influenced by the commitment to racial and gender equity, diversifying academia, and building communities of inclusion.