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.

Hear from experts — historians, psychologists, sociologists and Myrdal’s daughters — all filmed directly to camera. 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?

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American Denial Featured Interviews

Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University.

Mahzarin Banaji is an experimental psychologist and professor at Harvard University and Chair in Human Dynamics at the Santa Fe Institute.

Sissela Bok is the daughter of Gunnar and Alva Myrdal and a philosopher and ethicist.

Vincent Brown is Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Kaj Fölster is the youngest daughter of Gunnar and Alva Myrdal and an author and political activist.

Walter A. Jackson is a Professor of History at North Carolina State University.

Professor john a. powell is Executive Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society (HIFIS) and Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion at the University of California, Berkeley.

James Sidanius is a Professor in the departments of Psychology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Sudhir Venkatesh is Professor of Sociology, and the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University.

Funding Provided by

American Denial is a co-production of Vital Pictures, Inc. and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).