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Seven speakers we're excited to see at SXSW

Joe Gross
Brene Brown will be back to deliver the opening keynote speech at South by Southwest on March 8. [Erika Rich for Austin360 2016]

South by Southwest has transformed over the past 30 years from a regional music festival to a national music and film festival to a national music, film and tech innovation fest to (deep breath) a cultural conclave involving discussions, screenings and performances around music, film, TV, tech, politics, environmental concerns, comedy, cryptocurrency and much more.

Here are seven speakers worth checking out as part of the Interactive and Film parts of the festivities. All of these sessions are open to SXSW badgeholders only, but you may see some of the speakers at other events around town. Some also are participating in other SXSW panels or events.

Stacey Abrams.

Abrams was the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate for the state of Georgia. Abrams lost in a tightly contested, often controversial election to Brian Kemp, who was the state's chief elections officer for nearly a decade before resigning after overseeing his own race. Seen as a Democratic rising star, Abrams gave the Democratic response to the State of the Union address recently. It is also entirely possible she will run for Senate. She will discuss her book “Lead from the Outside.” Panel: 9:30 a.m. March 11 at Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon H.

John Boehner.

You might remember Rep. John Boehner from such jobs as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015 and the rep from Ohio’s 8th district from 1991 to 2015, from being reasonably well-liked on both sides of the aisle even as he was a right-wing conservative, and for being a really devout (tobacco) smoker. He recently co-created an industry-funded lobbying group called the National Cannabis Roundtable. He will be joined by Kevin Murphy, of cannabis industry investment firm Acreage Holdings. Panel: 2 p.m. March 15 at Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon H.

Brené Brown

This Houston-based researcher and motivational speaker has written five No. 1 New York Times bestsellers including “The Gifts of Imperfection,” “Daring Greatly,” and “Dare to Lead.” Brown is SXSW’s opening speaker; apparently her speech will be called “The Only Unfollow that Broke My Heart” and involves the question “What defines belonging, community and connection in an age of increased polarization, online vitriol, and epidemic shaming and blaming?” Panel: 11 a.m. March 8 in ACC Ballroom D.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) might be the most reported-upon Democratic politician alive. She is also 29 years old, in her first term in the House and an absolute lightning rod for Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn and President Trump. She will be in conversation with Briahna Gray of the Intercept. Panel: 5 p.m. March 9 in ACC Ballroom D.

Gwyneth Paltrow.

Until 2008, Gwyneth Paltrow was best known as one of the most famous American actresses alive. A style icon (anyone remember the totally excellent, Gwyneth-worshipping show “Popular”? Anyone?), Paltrow embodied a certain kind of turn of the century film star in movies such as “Se7en” and the Oscars-juggernaut “Shakespeare in Love.” In 2008, she founded Goop, an often controversial luxury lifestyle and “spiritual wellness” brand, a brand that has recently partnered with Netflix for a Goop-branded docuseries. She will be joined by CNN journalist Poppy Harlow. Panel: 11 a.m. March 11 at ACC Ballroom D.

Jonah Peretti.

Well, this will be good and weird. Jonah Peretti is founder and CEO of Buzzfeed, a digital media company that provides a mix of breaking news, entertainment and shareable content. In January, Buzzfeed laid off 15 percent of its workforce, then attempted to not pay laid-off staff for accrued paid time off, a decision they have since backed down on. Also, Buzzfeed workers are trying to unionize. The questions from the audience could be off the chain. 11 a.m. March 8 in the Fairmont Manchester CD.

Olivia Wilde.

Rumor has it that this actress, perhaps best known for an 81-episode turn on the smash hit TV show “House” as Dr. Remy "Thirteen" Hadley, is an outstanding director — her debut feature “Booksmart” world-premieres at SXSW this year. Panel: 11 a.m. March 11 at ACC Room 18ABCD.

RELATED: Check out all of our SXSW coverage