In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by three police officers on May 25th, 2020, there were Black Lives Matter protests that erupted around the world. Immersive filmmakers Alton Glass and Adam Davis-McGee felt the historic nature of this global movement for racial justice, and they wanted to help document this movement with 360° video in order capture a digital archive of the ephemeral memorials that are being created, but also footage from the frontlines of protests from around the United States. The result is a multi-part series called In Protest, with the first episode that launched on September 16th focusing on Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minnesota, which was ground zero of Floyd’s murder.
It’s a profound and powerful inaugural episode that uses the power of VR to transport you to the frontlines of the protest, to some of the support networks that have been emerging, but also some of the Say Their Names memorial spaces that have been created to honor many of the black people who have lost their lives. Glass and Davis-McGee also wanted to focus on other ways that Black people are protesting that goes beyond our typical idea of what it looks like to protest, whether that’s by making food, writing poetry, or doing community organizing behind the scenes. They collaborated with Professor Allissa V. Richardson, who wrote a book about Bearing Witness While Black, and she helped to set a broader context for what it means to bear witness to these racial injustices without adding more trauma to the already overwhelming experience of systemic racism.
I highly recommend checking out the first episode of In Protest, which can be tricky to track down. You can either look for it within the Oculus TV app under Editorial Picks, or you can search for “In Protest” on the main page and scroll down to “VR Media,” or you can try logging into Oculus website and click the “Save to VR” button and then look for the “Recently Saved” area at the bottom of Oculus Home on the Oculus Quest. It’s harder to find and access than it should be, but it’s definitely worth hunting down and watching within Oculus TV. I’m looking forward for future episodes as they continue to tell stories from Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also Washington D.C., and Atlanta.
These 360° videos are helping to document these movements, and they’re going to be really valuable historical documents that will allow people to drop into a more visceral and emotional experience of the Black Lives Matter movement. They found that all of the people that they shared their footage with before filming an interview would have a similar emotional reaction to being transported to these different memorials and pieces of art. Glass says that he’s hoping to open doors to help to make the XR industry more diverse and inclusive, and that we’re still at such an early phase of figuring out the cinematic language and grammar of VR storytelling. He expects that future generations will be able to pick up where we leave it, and that the stories they’re capturing can help to capture a spirit of pride identity, worth, authenticity, and respect for people involved in this movement.
There’s a lot of uncomfortable aspects to this story, and Glass hopes that it’s through sitting with that discomfort through an immersive experience that could help create space for equal-footing empathy, and help to hack our reality a bit to catalyze some paradigm shifts. Davis-McGee says that he’s hoping that this will help people be able to sit with some of their uncomfortable emotions, and that the medium of VR helps to access a more unfiltered experience of a wide range of rage, pain, joy, camaraderie, and solidarity. I know that’s certainly been true for me after the four times watching their initial episode, as each time brought me closer to emotionally connecting to the collective grief and trauma of the many injustices of black lives that have been lost and that are being honored within the many Say Their Names memorials. In Protest is a powerful and profound series that starts to show the power of how virtual reality storytelling can be used to tell stories that go beyond what other mediums can achieve.
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