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  • In the wake of recent events that have sparked a national dialogue on race dynamics, American Denial explores the impact of unconscious biases around race and class, using Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 investigation of Jim Crow racism.

    In the wake of recent events that have sparked a national dialogue on race dynamics, American Denial explores the impact of unconscious biases around race and class, using Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 investigation of Jim Crow racism.

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  • Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1947. Photograph by Gordon Parks / Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

    Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1947. Photograph by Gordon Parks / Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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  • Portrait of Gunnar Myrdal, 1937

    Portrait of Gunnar Myrdal, 1937

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  • Gunnar Myrdal with Ralph Bunche, Washington D.C., 1942 / Bunche looks to camera

    Gunnar Myrdal with Ralph Bunche, Washington D.C., 1942 / Bunche looks to camera

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  • National Guardsman escorting man around the time of a race riot in East St. Louis, June 6, 1917

    National Guardsman escorting man around the time of a race riot in East St. Louis, June 6, 1917

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  • Vince Brown, Historian, Harvard University

    Vince Brown, Historian, Harvard University

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  • Reenactment photo of young man getting frisked by cops

    Reenactment photo of young man getting frisked by cops

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  • Llewellyn Smith Producer/Director , Christine Herbes-Sommers Producer & Kelly Thomson Producer

    Llewellyn Smith Producer/Director , Christine Herbes-Sommers Producer & Kelly Thomson Producer

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The Film

Follow the story of foreign researcher and Nobel Laureate Gunnar Myrdal whose study, An American Dilemma (1944), provided a provocative inquiry into the dissonance between stated beliefs as a society and what is perpetuated and allowed in the name of those beliefs. His inquiry into the United States' racial psyche becomes a lens for modern inquiry into how denial, cognitive dissonance, and unrecognized, unconscious attitudes continue to dominate racial dynamics in American life. The film’s unusual narrative sheds a unique light on the unconscious political and moral world of modern Americans. Archival footage, newsreels, nightly news reports, and rare southern home movies from the '30s and '40s thread through the story, as well as psychological testing into racial attitudes from research footage, websites, and YouTube films.

In American Denial, hear from experts — historians, psychologists, sociologists and Myrdal’s daughters — while witnesses work to exhume unconscious feelings Americans have about themselves and others. Fascinated by the Myrdal question, the film’s experts reflect on it with emotion and intellectual rigor. At the core of their inquiry: How to reconcile individual feelings and thoughts with the bedrock values of our democracy?

The Filmmakers

  1. Christine Herbes-SommersProducer
  2. Llewellyn SmithProducer/Director
  3. Kelly ThomsonProducer