AFI Docs Review: ‘CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap’ Explores The Inequality of Women in the World of Computer Science

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“Women have always been an active part of the past, but not an active part of history.” This quote is one of the truest spoken in Robin Hauser Reynolds’s documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. Historically and statistically, women are overlooked, undermined, and ultimately told that some jobs are just not cut for women, especially in the fields of tech, math, and computer science. Well, Reynolds, and several successful women in this field, are here to tell you otherwise in a balanced, well-researched, fact and perspective-driven film about women in the male-dominated field of tech.

Reynolds lays bare the reality surrounding tech, in particular computer science, and the role of women in it. That is to say, there is a small percentage of them in this field. When asked what one thinks of when thinking of someone who works in tech, a couple of young girls and boys imagine a “man with glasses,” maybe some facial hair, and of being a “geek.” This is the stereotype that often surrounds a person in this position. Reynolds breaks this image for us down by showing us women, like Pixar’s Director of Photography Danielle Feinberg and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, who have persevered and flourished in their respective areas of expertise.

Littered with facts, statistics, and the like, the film might sound boring to some because of this. However, Reynolds paints a clear picture of inequality and studies the background as to why that is rather than sticking with just giving us the numbers. Societal norms, brain experience based on the different ways women and men are brought up are analyzed and dissected. The general idea that, as a country, the United States is behind in the field of tech because of its lack of quality computer science education programs, leading several countries to be ahead of us. The film finds a ridiculous sense of humor in the sense of “is this actually our reality” type of thinking, but also delves a bit into the darker side of the whys of the lack of diversity in computer science, citing uncomfortable workplaces and stories from the mouths of women who have endured this, as well as being raised to think that women can’t be good at math.

Ultimately, CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap is a thought-provoking, fascinating, and tantalizing look at the disparity of women in this field, as well as why tech should be an integral part of one’s schooling from a young age. The film examines, through anecdotes and thoughtful commentary from the film’s several female commentators, the background and reasons, why this is a problem, and even a brief look at what can be done to change this. Reynolds shows a lot of potential with her second documentary. Not a minute of it is uninteresting, and will make you want to champion this cause. A thinky film and look into a problem that, unfortunately, plagues the tech world and beyond.

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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