SXSW Reveals First Speakers for 2021 Fest

Climate, cannabis, and creativity featured in initial drop

Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin in National Geographic's GENIUS: ARETHA ((credit: National Geographic/Richard DuCree))

We already know what the all-digital SXSW 2021 won’t look like; that is, SXSW Online won’t look anything like the usual circus that dominates Downtown Austin. But as of today we have our first inkling of what the virtual fest will look like.

Today’s first programming announcement teased 18 featured speakers and 9 featured sessions, in advance of keynote speaker, film fest premiere, and musical showcase reveals to come in January. (SXSW Online will run March 16-20, a much leaner version of the usual week-and-a-half-long event.) Programming highlights include:

• Oscar-nominated actor Cynthia Erivo, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and producer Brian Grazer on the making of GENIUS: ARETHA, an Aretha Franklin miniseries, the latest in Nat Geo’s anthology series

Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO) and singer-songwriter/United Nations appointed “role model for innovation” Beatie Wolfe on collaborating on a collective postcard art demonstration in support of the United States Postal Service

• Ocean activist Alexandra Cousteau (yes, that Cousteau), Bizarre Foods enthusiast Andrew Zimmern, and producer David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies) on aquaculture’s role in transforming our food systems amidst our climate’s alarming transformation

• Cannabis conversations with Los Angeles’ first Executive Director and General Manager of the Department of Cannabis Regulation Cat Packer and Steve DeAngelo, cannabis reform movement leader and founder of multiple dispensaries

SXSW also unveiled its 2021 Themes, many of which speak to, well, 2020’s warpath: A New Urgency (tackling urgent issues like racial injustice and the climate crisis), Challenging Tech’s Path Forward (harnessing the tech industry’s power to be a positive actor), Cultural Resilience in the Arts (how creative communities evolve in times of crisis), The Rebirth of Business (capitalism and the global economy), Transforming the Entertainment Landscape (metamorphoses in the music, film, television, sports, and gaming industries), Connection in Disconnection (how online platforms have alleviated social isolation, and how we all onboard back into IRL interaction), and An Uncharted Future (anticipating the next “only in sci-fi” advances to become reality).

Read the entire announcement drop over at SXSW’s website, where you can also find registration info for the 2021 virtual fest.

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