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February 5, 2021 | Film,

Meet Ursula Liang: The Artist Behind Down a Dark Stairwell

Ursula Liang is a storyteller and activist that channeled her passion for journalism into becoming a successful independent filmmaker. Six years since her debut film, 9-Man, the Newton, MA native returns with her latest piece, Down a Dark Stairwell. With a continued focus on the complex experiences of Asian-Americans, Down a Dark Stairwell follows the story of a Chinese-American police officer after he kills an unarmed Black man in the stairwell of a New York City housing project, igniting a complicated fight for accountability and justice. 

Never formally trained in filmmaking herself, Liang said that originally the story appealed to her primarily because of the officer’s last name: it’s the same as her own. However, upon examining the issue, she realized that this event also provided an opportunity to talk about the relationship between different communities of color, along with the complexity and history. The resulting film gave her the chance to display how different communities react to one another when whiteness is no longer the standard.

The key creatives who worked on the film were Black and/or Asian, emphasizing the need to center BIPOC creatives in a story about their own communities. Laing intentionally did not interview white people for the documentary film, with the intention to “elevate voices that sometimes don’t have a chance to be elevated in mainstream stories.” Some may breeze by this detail, but Liang and her fellow creatives made a conscious choice to ensure underrepresented stories remain in the spotlight.

Liang’s goal is to show people a new perspective and help them make up their own minds about divisive issues. This translates in her work, as she doesn’t focus on the narrative necessarily; instead, she outlays multiple perspectives and guides the audience towards an answer, leading her audience to create their own  their own choices and convictions

Ultimately, she hopes that the film will promote solidarity between two subjugated communities, saying, “solidarity is very complicated, but it should be our goal.”

Liang’s previous work as a journalist can be seen as a part of The New York Times Op-Docs, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, ESPN The Magazine, Asia Pacific Forum on WBAI, StirTV, The Jax Show, Hyphen Magazine, and the New Yorker Festival.

As a part of her own activism and philanthropic work, Liang is a Brown Girls Doc Mafia board member and belongs to A-DOC and Film Fatales.

Be sure to watch Down a Dark Stairwell FEB 05-07, streaming only at ArtsEmerson.

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