#946: “In Protest:” 360° Video of Black Lives Matter Movement, Memorials, & Many Ways to Bear Witness While Black

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.

adam-davis-mcgeeIt’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These 360° videos are helping to document these movements, and they’re going to be really valuable historical documents that will allow people to drop into a more visceral and emotional experience of the Black Lives Matter movement.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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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So on May 25th, 2020, was the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And in the aftermath, there were protests around the world fighting for racial justice, but also the fact that Black Lives Matter. And not everybody was necessarily on the front lines of those protests. And so a couple of 360 video filmmakers, Alton Glass and Adam Davis-McGee, they wanted to start to capture the many different ways that you could protest. What's it mean to bear witness while you're Black in this moment in history? They really wanted to try to capture this moment in history with 360 video, but also create a digital archive of a lot of the art and memorials that have been popping up around the world in these different epicenters of protest. So they created a piece released on September 16th, 2020. It's the same day as Facebook Connect. It's produced by Oculus for Good, and so it was released on the same day as Facebook Connect, and it's available on Oculus TV if you want to watch it. Highly, highly recommend you go check it out. There should be a link within the Description and as well as if you go through editorial pics, it should still be there It can be difficult to find videos later on because there's not a search But it's called in protest and there should be a link within the description that should help you find it But it's definitely worth checking out and then this conversation was just unpacking their process. It's a multi-part series Just the first episode has been released so far and it's really really quite moving and powerful what they were able to capture and do so far with this series, so I'm actually really looking forward to seeing how this continues to develop. But I wanted to sit down with both Alton and Adam to be able to talk about their process of producing this in the midst of a pandemic, but also to see what's it mean to bear witness while Black and to try to capture this moment in history with this Black Lives Matter movement that's happening. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Alton and Adam happened on Monday, September 14th, 2020. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:18.581] Alton Glass: My name is Alton Glass, co-founder of GRX Immersive Labs. I am a director and a producer and I've been working in VR for maybe, I guess, maybe five, six years now, maybe. And my goal is just to continue to open up doors for other diverse creators in this space as a storyteller and a creative technology studio and R&D lab.

[00:02:42.546] Adam Davis McGee: And my name is Adam Davis-McGee. I've been an immersive producer and digital storyteller for a couple of years now. I launched my VR startup in Atlanta, Georgia in 2016 and moved back out to Los Angeles to refocus and dial in deeper on how to create more experiential design on a broader digital storytelling tip and started thinking up with Alton this past year. And I'm also a dad.

[00:03:15.048] Kent Bye: Hmm. So I'm wondering if you could each give a bit more context to this, to your background and your journey into VR up to this point, like your entry point into VR.

[00:03:25.350] Alton Glass: Okay. So my background is, uh, directing feature films, independent films and movies for television. And I've been doing that since 2006. And when I joined the Director's Guild, I started to see a transition in various different uses of technology for storytelling and attended a VR expo and just fell in love with virtual reality and the power of what it could be. And it brought back my imagination as a youth when I first saw my very first film. And from there, you know, I just decided to, you know, become a people again and Really see what I can do with it. And it's been a journey, just learning. And I love that part about it. And I've just been using VR as a pathway to remind me that the imagination is frameless and I continue to think outside the box. So for me, education has been a big component for me. At GRX Immersive Labs, after I started directing, you know, VR content, I moved into education and started working with companies like Verizon and Facebook and other organizations, just really showcasing opportunities in immersive media as a whole. So that's where I am now. So I operate between inner city education and entertainment and gaming now.

[00:04:40.411] Adam Davis McGee: My background started off as doing a lot of creative direction. and multimedia art here in Los Angeles, doing a lot of digital content. For the first person that put a camera in my hand was Will.i.am. And Will and I go super way back since I was in high school. And he really shepherded a lot of the skill sets for me into understanding the power of digital storytelling and content creation and just kind of really introducing that, you know, kind of early and fast forward, started doing more traditional shooting and editing, learning Premiere and Final Cut, teaching for the Black Eyed Peas Music and Arts Academy, and just doing a lot of different type of content creation on the web. And while I was working in Atlanta, I was a creative director for a nonprofit teaching youth how to leverage the power of digital tools to tell their stories. And it was during that time that I started seeing where 360 video was going and coming along. And I was teaching a music video camp, and we had a couple of 360 music videos in them. And the company that I was collaborating with that did VR in Atlanta came to me and we started discussing how we could keep the partnership going to do more things like that. So that's how I started looking and taking what was to become XR a lot more serious. And similar to what Alton shared, it was always that intersection of education and the arts and entertainment that always really inspired me and fueled me. So that's where my path was started. And that's been really exciting.

[00:06:22.473] Kent Bye: Well, I've had a chance to see the first episode of in protest, which seems to be covering the aftermath of the death of George Floyd that happened on May 25th of 2020. And maybe you could catch me up as to the, the deeper context as how this project came about. It sounds like there's going to be other episodes as well, but maybe you could just catch me up as to the catalyzing moment to come together and start to work on this specific piece.

[00:06:51.918] Alton Glass: Adam actually approached me about the concept initially, and I was really, you know, excited about just collaborating in general. Like he mentioned, we had been, you know, trying to figure out what we were going to work on. We did some other projects prior, and just figuring, okay, now what can we do in terms of VR together? And the timing was right, and we had a conversation with Amy about it, and I guess, Adam, you can kind of take it from there.

[00:07:21.715] Adam Davis McGee: Amy and I have been crossing paths in the Silver Lake neighborhood in Los Angeles, and I'm originally from Minneapolis, so everything that was unfolding at home was hitting, you know, extremely, extremely personal for me as I was kind of unpacking as the entire world was unpacking what was going on in the wake of George Floyd's murder. And Amy and I, during one of our conversations, were just checking in about who out there was capturing this moment in history, this moment in time, in 360, in VR, and what did that kind of look like? I shared with Amy that Alton and I had been discussing some of these, kind of having some of the conversations about the citizen journalists that were out there throughout the U.S. that we knew of that were capturing some of this 360 footage. And we just wanted to kind of start figuring out what the appropriate, creative, ethical way to begin fostering and leveraging the technology in these conversations. And it just kind of went from there. I just am thankful that Alton and GRX, that we were all in this kind of space at this time to really take the lead on it and take it seriously, because it's something that the Black Lives Matter conversation just had not been brought into this space yet at all. And it just needed to happen for sure. So.

[00:08:51.259] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah, because I know that that was really a catalyzing moment for different protests around the world. And as we think about 360 video and what it can do, you can go into the front lines of the protests. And there's a lot of the conflict between the police and the protesters that are happening all over the world. But there's also what I thought was quite moving in your piece was to be able to capture all the memorials that were made as well to really take us to that place of where that happened. And I felt that was really quite profound to be able to do that. But as you started to work on this project, there's certain things that 2D media could do and 360 media could do. And so maybe you could just walk through that process of trying to tell this broader story, because it's a huge story. And you chose a few protagonists and a poet and and have a little bit of that mix of that protest footage, but also just the footage of folks walking in solidarity, but also the memorial. So maybe just walk me through the process of trying to capture what this moment means and how to really encapsulate that with what the 360 video medium can really tell about this story.

[00:10:02.651] Adam Davis McGee: Yeah, sure. One of the things that we discussed from the very beginning was The idea of protesting and the understanding and the relationship of protesting, you know, there's a very diverse spectrum of what that looks like. And because of this year, the political climate, the word protest and the action of protesting has been misconstrued. It hasn't been fully realized and represented accurately and with integrity in the media. And we saw an opportunity that 360 specifically can bring to the table of this very unfiltered, frameless, unique perspective that our folks on the front lines could bring to it. But even more than that, we said, how can we show the various ways black people protest beyond just taking to the streets? How can we tell that story? And what does that look like? You know, how does poetry look, you know, and spoken word look as protests? How does food and the role of the culinary experience serve as healing and as protests? You know, how does voting look as protests? So we started to dissect Again, me being from Minneapolis, I had some immediate ideas of people to put a spotlight on that, you know, or some of these unsung heroes that could really bring some. much needed perspective to VR audiences and to the XR audiences. So that was kind of where we started. And then we began to really look at what else, as far as the country and the landscape, you know, Atlanta, DC, here in Los Angeles, we really started to unpack like, okay, what could this look like? And what would make this even more dynamic and unique and special than 360? So that was, Both the opportunity and the challenge, because as you know, there's not a lot of 360 footage and capture out there to support these experiences. So you have to really move fast and you have to move with intention and purpose. And there's still a lot happening in real time that can impact how you tell that story. So, yeah, the catalyst and the center of this story and this conversation was very much so rooted around trying to showcase what I like to call a constellation of Black voices and really display the diversity and myriad of manners and ways that we do this work of protest and how Black people are in protest 24-7, all of the time. It doesn't stop. So that was a big piece that the conversations that Halton and I were having around this, that that was a really big takeaway. I don't know, Halton, if there's anything else.

[00:12:51.031] Alton Glass: No, I mean, for me, it was about, you know, there's a lot of times you watch the news and you watch what happens, but it just doesn't necessarily stick all the time. Right. So being able to create an experience like this will bring to people into the situation to feel it and experience it. I just feel like it gives you a whole new perspective of what goes down within these sort of subcultures, in a sense. Like, I learned a lot about new ways people protest myself and how people are reacting to this. And, you know, typically you only hear about the mainstream media protests in a sense, but here we get a chance to see at a grassroots level how communities are coming together, how they're reacting, how they're healing, and how they're moving progress forward in these situations. So it's not only a time capsule, but a tool for, I believe, future generations to look at and say, wow, this is how they did this. Similar to when we worked on another project in March, there was so much I learned about how people mobilized to create change. And we're just using new tools to be able to carry that through into the future.

[00:14:04.255] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to see a preview of the first episode. Are there going to be three other episodes? And maybe you could give a bit more context as to whether or not you go to other places or there's more individual stories that you're telling to be able to cover all the dimensions of what's happening in this project in protest.

[00:14:22.721] Adam Davis McGee: Yeah, there will be two more episodes released for the Minnesota collection. It's like a Minneapolis and St. Paul, also known as the twin cities. There'll be three episodes total within that collection, and we will also be releasing three more collections, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Those are the beginnings of this whole piece, and we hope to do more, but there will be three episodes within each of those releases, each of those collections. So we have through the rest of the year to keep capturing and keep releasing. It's quite a rigorous production schedule. We're doing both simultaneously as you're capturing and getting ready to go into post-production and kind of pre-production simultaneously. But, you know, it's necessary. It's needed and it's necessary.

[00:15:19.510] Alton Glass: And I love about it, too, that we're actually witnessing, you know, history in the making as we create in real time. This paradigm shift, you know, it's coming full circle, history all over again in this dynamic where people are coming together, unifying to create a new reality together, which I think is amazing as we tap into the power of virtuality. So it's a great process to witness as well as capture.

[00:15:46.877] Kent Bye: Yeah. And not to mention that there's also a global pandemic that's happening. And I saw at least a few shots of the production crew in the background with masks on, but maybe you could just speak a little bit to that. Cause I think that also is a big part of this moment in history. You know, there was a bit of a lockdown and quarantine that happened. And then when this happened, it was almost like this. Explosion of anger and rage and energy of people being quarantined and sheltered in place for a lot of times, but also just this. pent up anger, but there's the pandemic aspect and just this explosion of energy that's coming out. Maybe you could just speak about that a little bit as well, in terms of. The logistics and the energy and what it was like to, if you were sheltered in place and now all of a sudden you're having to do all these practices and be safe and we still don't know all these things. There's a lot of uncertainty, but there's a deeper purpose that I could definitely see is happening, but there's also like a lot of risk that. had to be taken on for people to show up and for you to be there as well to capture it all.

[00:16:49.574] Adam Davis McGee: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's probably where we have to offer our immediate gratitude to the brave 360 filmmakers out there who went out into the streets. And obviously, first and foremost, we give gratitude to all of the protesters, everyone who's put their bodies on the line in the name of this movement. But Beyond that, and specifically for this piece, for us to even start somewhere, we had to, you know, see who was going out there to capture. And, you know, Jonathan Williams, Tiago, Tony Valenzuela, like, these are a few people that were within the network in different cities around the US that We're just recognizing the sense of urgency and the moment in time and took their cameras out to the streets, literally to their own backyard, to their own communities, and just started rolling. You know, with VR and production, we always get super caught up in the sexy and the professional and the this and the that. It's like, this is the raw. You know, this is the real. And we're going straight up to the front lines. And we're going straight up to sheriffs. And we're going straight up to agents and police and just We're rolling, and we're capturing the emotion completely unfiltered, and we're capturing the rage, and we're capturing the pain, and we're capturing the joy and the camaraderie and the solidarity. We're capturing everything unfiltered. And that right there is just a microcosm of what this larger picture and moment will be like in history when the entire world went against the rules of a pandemic and stood up for something that was bigger than that risk of sickness and death because of what they were witnessing, being committed by the state and saying, like, enough is enough and this is no longer OK. It's like Tish, our poet that's in the first episode, you know, she summed it up very well. She's like, we can't go out like that. It's like we can take the risk on of a pandemic, of a COVID, But we cannot, as a people, we can't go out like that, the manner in which we're seeing ourselves and our bodies being treated. So we really have to give a lot of gratitude and praise to the brave filmmakers that took to the streets and without which there wouldn't even be, you know, that's the foundation. There wouldn't be a project to build this house on without it. Yeah. And, you know, there's a short disclaimer at the top of each episode that kind of gives reference to that to let people know that the cinematographer, that the shooter, you know, it's very up close and personal. And it's not like what you're typically accustomed to seeing, you know, with VR journalism and different things. But this is a different kind of story that has to be told in a different kind of way. So we recognize that and we set the stage for that as best as we can for our viewers.

[00:19:46.313] Kent Bye: Yeah, Alton, I don't know if you had anything else to add just to that point of producing this piece in the midst of a pandemic.

[00:19:53.216] Alton Glass: Yeah, I mean, I would say just the bravery, because a lot of people who worked on this project, you got to think too, it was their first time, you know, not only dealing with a protest and attending a protest, but also the first time dealing with something like COVID. So it's compounded that experience. So Being able to see them go out amidst all of this and still come out on the side has been amazing. Like he said, it's a testament to just the fight and the courage to get out there and do something that's necessary right now.

[00:20:26.296] Adam Davis McGee: And also to just our subjects, people being willing to get in front of camera. You know, we did our best for this entire production. We took all precautions of being COVID compliant. And, you know, we're so thankful that our subjects agreed to take time out of their day to come out of their homes, to sit down in front of camera, to share this story, because they also see the importance of their voices and their stories and their experiences being archived and captured. You know, with VR, it's always a thing of like, this is the new thing. And people are always kind of hesitant and they're not entirely sure. It really meant a lot to us that people have been responsive and brave to come sit down with us, too, while the majority of productions are shut down. And we just kept everything as lean and as safe as we possibly could to make sure that this could be executed safely.

[00:21:20.614] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's when the video of the murder and lynching of George Floyd had come out, it was pretty horrifying to watch that. And the protest started to happen there locally, but then spread out all over the world. And so I'm just curious to hear a little bit more context as to each of you, as you saw that video, because that's really a catalyzing moment that really led to everything that's unfolding. You know, what was your experience of actually seeing that video for the first time? And then what then unfolded from there in your journey to be able to take you to this moment, to be able to document everything that's coming after that?

[00:21:57.140] Alton Glass: I mean, me personally, it just regurgitates trauma. I think that. Historically, you know, we've seen it. We've experienced it. We know it. And I think that it wasn't necessarily for us. It was for the rest of the world to bear witness to that, to see that, you know, he's a human being like anybody else. And I think that's what sparked that fire in the rest of the world. But for, you know, a young Black man, I mean, that's just been a process that we're familiar with. And just so happened that someone had the courage to capture the entire thing, because if you wouldn't have had the video, it would have just been another case, like any other case that's been happening for the past hundred years. So that bearing witness to that was the catalyst, the match that struck the flame. So for us, it's now how do we continue to create experiences and content? And this is our form of protest and showcasing how we can get everyone to have that courage and share their voice together. So that's what it's been like for me, just, you know, doing our part. We don't want to necessarily show clips like that in our projects, but we want to show you what it takes to push past that.

[00:23:16.968] Adam Davis McGee: Yeah. Yeah, you know, I still haven't watched, and I won't really watch the video in its entirety. caught, obviously, glimpses of it with various news outlets and everything else. But when I found out that people were taken to the streets, the Lake Street specifically, my attention immediately locked into how I can help be a resource and a satellite for my city. And that video itself, When I did find out about it, it was that the thumbnail was enough for me just to, you know, really kind of really kind of be broken. You get these headlines, you get Ahmaud Arbery had just been shot a few weeks prior. It just there were there were so many things already emotionally just processing that I was doing. And yeah, it's one of those things where it's it's It's very sensitive for me. It's triggering. It's traumatic. And I, I wanted to do something for my city and be something for my city from Los Angeles while at the same time trying to be a father and be a husband and be present. And there's a lot of processing happening that, you know, I hope that some of this work that we're doing can help people. feel like it's OK to be, like, to sit in those emotions. It's something that a lot of us Black men, Black people, we're not told that it's OK to sit with those emotions and just to let those feelings go. But to Alton's point, the bravery of bearing witness, Darnella Frazier, 17-year-old girl, you know, was just going to the store one day. Now her life is forever changed because she recorded that video. 17 years old, you know, The whole idea of bearing witness while Black was something that, from the very beginning of this project, we wanted to weave in that specific role and how Black people, how it's been, the idea of bearing witness while Black has been met with so much resistance from White people and from a supremacist state. you know, dating all the way back to slavery. And the person who really helped Alton and I navigate some of that is a woman by the name of Dr. Alyssa Richardson, who's a professor at USC and who wrote a book called Bury Witness While Black, The Future of Hashtag Journalism. And she really helped us navigate some of those emotions and some of that history, understanding the role of mobile journalism and how that fits now within this present movement. And when we start talking about VR and how we start taking some of these ideas of archiving the Black witnessing and the experience, what that looks like, it really helped us anchor this project around something much deeper and much bigger than what we initially thought about, you know, just police brutality. But it's like, here we are with a 17-year-old girl and other witnesses of the past, like Alton said, whose evidence and whose cell phone footage, it's never been enough. You know, the black witness has never been enough to justify and warrant the justice for another human being, another black life. So it just, it really, it really took that video and what it represents, and then the whole kind of construct around the role of technology in the equation. You know, it was a big reminder for us of the additional value and responsibility we have as technologists and storytellers and journalists.

[00:27:11.536] Kent Bye: Yeah, like I said earlier, one of the most powerful parts of this piece for me was going to the places where it happened to see all the memorials, to see the murals, to see all the names painted on the street, to see all the gravestones with the names on it. And that just the opportunity to not be in the midst of a battle between the police and the protesters, but to really have that opportunity to connect to that these were human lives that were lost and to be able to see their names and there was a song say your name and they read through the different names but maybe talk about that process because that I don't know if you were there yourself to be able to record that or if you weren't there to be able to then be transported there but even if you were there to go back there to really bear witness to those memorials It seems like a really powerful piece for people to be able to connect to that story in a way that maybe you can't connect to as well in a 2D image. It feels like you're really transported there and feeling like you're really at this place that's really trying to honor their lives, how that whole area was kind of blocked off. So maybe you could just sort of expand on that part of the piece.

[00:28:21.210] Adam Davis McGee: Yeah, that is definitely, that was and is an intention. to be able to leverage one of VR's greatest assets, and that is to travel to other places and to place the viewer in a space that they wouldn't otherwise be able to necessarily have access to. You know, the George Floyd memorial site, you know, is probably arguably one of the, you know, most viewed images of this year that will be remembered. And for us as filmmakers, we knew that we were bringing these tools, 360 cameras, into that space. It was going to offer that opportunity to a number of people who really wanted to extend their heart and extend their love to that space and to that family and to this movement and to this conversation. It's not always going to be there. Right now, the city, the last few months, There's already the talks and the conversations of that corridor needing to go back to normal and for businesses to reopen. And it's changed, right? And it changed so much even before we arrived to film. There's a number of different iterations of the artwork and the floral arrangements and just the manner in which that space is being honored and represented. It's a lot of energy. It's a lot of energy there. You know, the experience for me, it was really, and for the team too, Jonathan Williams, the videographer, his home, his family home is only a few blocks away from where George Floyd was murdered. My grandfather's house, where I grew up, is only a few blocks away from where George Floyd was murdered. It's so personal. It's so incredibly personal. So you feel like You're doing justice by the culture. You're doing justice by the VR community for filmmakers. Like, just the whole thing, you just is like, this is a very unique and rare moment and opportunity, and this is what we should be using these tools for. This is what it is. It's about being able to facilitate and usher in that moment. And, you know, that was definitely one of the things we were looking forward to being able to provide through this experience was people, to have a moment, a pause, to be here, to reflect, and just kind of have moments of breath for this individual whose breaths were taken away from him in this space, very much so. It's an intention of honoring. And the Say Their Names memorial, the grave sites that you're mentioning, is only about a block away from the site. And I just found out recently that there are a number of say their name, memorial installations that have been popping up all around the US. This one was done by two people, not from Minnesota, but their curation of it is beautiful. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece, but I would really love for us as VR filmmakers, anyone who is listening out there, if you have these memorial sites that are popping up in your cities, please Take a 360 camera out there, capture them. You know, it's really, really important that we digitally archive these memorials in 360, because more than anything, you're honoring the loved one who's lost. But we're starting to now be able to truly catalog these stories. And then that might lead to a case being reopened. That could lead to justice being served. I mean, it's not far off. Podcasts have been starting to do it the last few years. You just never know. So I think about it from that perspective of not just providing that opportunity for people to step into the world and the space, but hopefully to take it a step further and have some sort of call to action, maybe as a result of it.

[00:32:17.237] Kent Bye: Yeah, Alton, I don't know if you were able to be on site for some of these places or if your only experience of them was to see it through this piece. But I'm just curious if you had any reactions of being able to go to these memorial sites.

[00:32:30.467] Alton Glass: I would say, you know, one thing I think when you see George Floyd, like I may see myself and other people may just see a human being who, like you said, may have been lynched. But when you see these memorial grave sites, you see your own mortality, and you see how real this could be, and you see how compounded it could be when you see all of these names of all these victims, because you only hear about them, you know, a news clip here, a news clip there, a news clip here. But when you compound them and bring them all together, you see the true magnitude of this sort of systemic issue, right, coming together, and you get a moment to actually be grounded in that. And I think that's what makes that so powerful for us all to see. that this could be any one of us in a situation like that. And if we don't take advantage of coming together now, what does that look like for our civil liberties in the future? And I think that's why people are coming together now, because of these types of moments right now, to be able to experience those. So for me, it's very powerful.

[00:33:32.386] Kent Bye: I'm wondering if, just to hear a few thoughts in terms of how you think the VR medium could help to not only capture these moments, but to be able to open up these broader conversations about these issues. I know there's the Roger Ross Williams piece, Traveling While Black, that starts to cover this a little bit. There's a thousand cuts. Dr. Courtney Cogburn. So yeah, there's been a number of pieces that start to address some of these issues, but I'm just wondering what you think the role of VR might be in being able to facilitate deeper conversations about this specific issue.

[00:34:03.661] Alton Glass: I think it starts with awareness, right? A lot of times, you know, if you're in a bubble, you may not have experience in certain situations. And one thing that's a common denominator with those other experiences you talked about is that That discomfort creates discourse. And I think that's the first sort of barrier that you may have with people who have different backgrounds. They might not understand each other and understand how to develop that empathy. And it takes some discomfort to get us there, to normalize that conversation with each other. And if we can do that, we can open up that door to say, wow, OK, now I can feel and understand this experience. Now let's unpack that a little bit more. my perspective and we can shift and understand how to communicate better with each other and develop that empathy because there's a fine line between empathy, which we want ultimately compassion, right? And a fine line between sympathy. And if you have sympathy for me, you can never see me as an equal, right? So if we break that barrier and compassion causes it, and that's what we want to create here. when we drop you into a VR experience like this to create that conversation amongst each other?

[00:35:17.908] Adam Davis McGee: Definitely. I mean, I think the opportunities to have immersive tools be a conduit to raising awareness and having not just the challenging conversations, like to Alton's point, that the uncomfortability is a part of the process. which I think more people, allies are realizing this year. But I really personally, you know, when I'm creating content like this and I hope GRX, like I hope we can create more content in the future that truly ushers in a sense of pride and a sense of identity and a sense of worth that truly embodies the messaging of Black Lives Matter. So people like my daughter, people like Alton's children, there's a sense of worth and pride that these stories, that this content, that this technology can really usher in, be it through curriculum, be it through entertainment, edutainment, however that looks. I think there's so, so much opportunity there. And yeah, I want that messaging of Black Lives Matter to really you know, stick within the threads of immersive technology and really create some new type of dialogue for people around the world to obviously challenge and shift, you know, create paradigm shifts in the way that people are thinking, but definitely also to instill a sense of authenticity and integrity and pride and respect within the next generation. Like Alton said earlier, like it's kind of creating these time capsules. that's where my mind and my heart is anchored and where it sees it going and gets me excited to think about the opportunities that we have before us.

[00:37:11.436] Kent Bye: Right. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and what it might be able to enable?

[00:37:25.062] Alton Glass: I think that One thing I love about virtual reality is that, you know, it's an experience. You know, you get an opportunity to break that 2D frame and come inside. And when you come out, you know, you felt like you've experienced this. And when you have certain experiences, it sort of gives you these synthetic or prosthetic sort of memories that when you come out, it allows you to see things. It's a little bit different, right? And if you can disrupt that usual sort of cognitive dissonance that you might typically have and say, wow, OK, I was able to see something that I'm not familiar with. And now when I come out, I can recognize that, oh, wow, that's not quite there. That's not quite right. And I think to a certain degree, it can help us really, really tap into a level of raising our cultural quotient, our emotional intelligence, a number of different things that can help bring us together to shift our realities a bit. for the better. And that's what I love about the potential of virtual reality and inertia. It can allow us to sort of hack our reality in a sense and see things differently. We come out on the other side in a very empowering way as well. So this project is not just about what's happening to me. It's about how I can create and I can be proactive And I can be a voice and I can move forward and not be a victim and create a new reality for myself as well. And for the individuals who are watching and say, you know what, if they can do it, I can do it. There's a lot of unsung heroes in here that are actively making things happen. And that can inspire people in a sense as well.

[00:39:09.456] Adam Davis McGee: Yeah, as you were just describing that, Alton, I'm reminded of something that we've been doing with every single subject that we've sat down with, every single person. I don't like the word subject. It sounds so clinical. But all of our guests that are featured throughout this experience, while we had them in our space in the studio, we gave them an Oculus Quest to put on. And we showed them about two minutes of footage that was like a string out, like an edit cut together, like a little montage of different protests from around the U.S. that some of our different shooters and citizen journalists and filmmakers provided us and that we've been looking at and reviewing. We just took together two minutes of that, and we've shared it with all of our different folks who have been on the front lines or, you know, not on the front lines or been in this work or in this capacity. And every single time that someone put on that headset and was in that experience for those two minutes, every single time that they came out, they came out with, you know, not a sense of like, oh, my God, that technology is so cool and the technology is so amazing. But there was a truly authentic emotional shift that unfolded and impact that took place that Vary from person to person. And. One of the things that we always followed up with, one of the things that we always ask them when they watched it was if you could share this with one other person, who would it be? And that response varied. Some people said, I want to show it to my little seven-year-old nephew so he has a sense of why we're doing this work. I want to show it to my white boss and co-worker so he understands why I'm doing this work and why I have a Black Lives Matter sign on my desk or whatever. Every single response was so incredibly personal and so incredibly diverse. And to Alton's point, as you just described, I just am like, man, if we can just keep using these tools to truly curate authentic and intentional and purposeful conversations for us to work together and build together as a community and as a world, It's there, like we have it, like we can truly, truly place people in some perspectives and generate that empathy and not sympathy, but generate that empathy and generate some perspectives that don't necessarily come and aren't always so articulate. You know, the feelings, they don't come from words. They don't come from debate. They don't come from argument. They come from experience and they come from perspective. being able to show these kind of little snippets of the front lines and being able to show some of this footage, I've seen it firsthand how it can help be a tool for that and help be a conduit for that. So that's my hope. I hope we can keep building off of that blueprint and hypothesis.

[00:42:24.696] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:42:31.605] Alton Glass: For the community, you know, I would just say keep planting seeds for the next generation to be able to usher in these immersive technologies, right? I believe VR is the seed that I'm planting. I don't think it'll be realized in my lifetime, but I look at it like the traditional film industry, you know, it took years for that to become what it was. And I think that we're at a stage right now where the work we're doing the next generation to pick up on it and develop new language, new grammar, and some amazing things that they'll be able to do with this. So, you know, we just have to keep planting those seeds together as a community at the forefront of, you know, experimenting and getting out there and telling these stories. And I think we're going to have a promising, immersive economy and great tools for storytelling and change, social impact with these tools.

[00:43:28.706] Adam Davis McGee: I just want to say to the immersive community out there, a lot of y'all are white, a lot of y'all are men, and we got to do better in shifting the landscape and making this more inclusive. And to Alden's point, we got to plant the seeds. And our garden can't have the exact same type of fruit. We've got to be able to harvest a diverse crop. And for all of y'all out there that are doing this work and that are evangelists and that are passionate, just really take this time, take this year, take a look at it, have those uncomfortable conversations, and take a look at where your sphere of influence is and the work that you're doing, and just figure out, ask yourself, like, how can I collaborate? How can I be making my space more diverse and more inclusive? It's OK if people don't agree with you. It is OK if you don't have the exact same perspectives, but what we have to do in this tech space, specifically in this immersive space, across the board, I don't care if it's AI, if it's VR, if it's AR, if it's projection mapping, all of us, like, we have to be intentional with creating this inclusive community. We've got to plant those seeds to make that garden and that crop. diverse. So that's what I say to y'all, to my brothers and sisters out there, and to all the humans out there that are dedicated to this space. I'm here for you. I'm at your service. Houghton's at your service. We're here.

[00:45:01.132] Kent Bye: Well, Alton and Adam, I just wanted to thank you for not only doing this project and helping to try to capture this story. It's a big story. It's a complicated story, but I think that it's happening around the world in different cities and to just go there and capture the artifacts of those spaces and those individuals that are in these communities to help tell the story, this larger story through the lens of these individual protagonists and these spaces that are happening around the world. So I look forward to seeing how it continues to develop and people will check it out and to get to see what you've been able to already do and kind of watch this series as it unfolds. And, uh, yeah, also just, uh, thank you for joining me today on the podcast and to help tell a little bit more of your story and the story of this project that you've been working on. So thank you.

[00:45:46.178] Alton Glass: Thank you. Keep up the great work.

[00:45:52.108] Kent Bye: Thanks. So that was Alton Klass. He's the co-founder of GRX Immersive Labs, as well as Adam Davis-McGee. He's an immersive producer and digital storyteller. So I have a number of different takeaways from this interview is that first of all, Well, that capturing of those memorials is what is going to really stick with me, just because it really transports you to that location, that place, which is a historic time, a historic moment. But it's also just honoring so many black lives that have been killed at the hands of police. And, you know, just to see the memorial for George Floyd, all the flowers and to be in that space and see how it changed over time, to see all the names painted on the street. as well as just the graveyard with all the headstones that say their names memorial with all these different names spaced out spatially and really profound and really quite powerful. And as Adam said, this is really leveraging the power of virtual reality to be able to transport you to these different locations. And Alton said, you know, when you're there, you really start to also think about your own mortality. And for people who are black, then this could be anybody, you know, be in a situation where their name could be on one of these headstones here. So this is capturing a turning point in the history when it comes to racial justice. And a big part of this has actually been the technology and the role of technology to be able to actually capture what is happening. And Alton said, this is just one case of many cases that have been happening over the past hundred plus years. And it's just now that we're able to actually capture it and document and show it to the world. And it's in that, like, what's it mean to bear witness while black, this hashtag journalism. It's a book by Alyssa Richardson, which actually came out on May 15th, 2020, which is about 11 days before George Floyd was murdered on May 26th, 2020, as well as a few months after Ahmaud Arbery was killed on February 23rd, 2020. So this issue of what's it mean to bear witness while black and to be traumatized by these experiences, but to still be aware of it, you know, Adam had never really even watched the full video of George Floyd and just the thumbnail was enough to be able to break him. Then they both said that, you know, protesting while black is like a 24-7 thing. It's like you're never done because you're always on the front lines of a lot of these different issues. And just to be able to show other ways that you can protest without what we typically think about, what's it mean to resist? What's it mean to protest? And there's so many other aspects of a community movement like this that VR, I think, actually helps to capture that. for more of an anthropological lens that you're able to be dropped into these places and feel like you have an experience of this culture, rather than trying to create some sort of 2d representation of that. Alton said again, again, you're breaking the frame, and you're actually going into these spaces, and you're having an experience. And as they would show these different clips, like two minutes worth of clips, Adam was saying, after people would come out, they would have their emotions be shifted. And I can tell you that just from going through and protest a number of times, I've had the exact same experience of just really feeling grounded in my emotions and feeling like connected to both the people and this larger movement. Just did a really amazing job of putting it together. I really enjoyed the poetry and, you know, just the whole way of capturing both oral histories and the testimony, which, you know, is something that you could do in 2D, but there's also this experience of being transported into the front lines of these different movements. We're in the middle of a pandemic. There's a lot of people like myself that have mostly spent sheltered in place working remotely but you know there are people that are putting a lot on the line in terms of their lives and their safety and there is a pandemic that is happening and that not only are people putting their lives at risk for this greater cause as Adam said, you know, Tish one of the black women that they're featuring is There's a poet and she said, you know, we can't go out like this. And so this larger impulse to be able to either be on those front lines, but again, not everybody wants to be on those front lines. And so what are other ways that you can find to resist and to protest? For them, it's making this 360 video series, documenting all these variety of different ways. And I think for each person, they can find their own ways to try to bring awareness to this specific issue of Black Lives Matter. You know, they're going to have a number of different cities that they're going to. They've had to work and collaborate with different 360 video creators who are regional to these different spaces, and they're going out and capturing this 360 footage. And they really want to try to create this digital archive of these memorial spaces and the art that's being created as a part of this movement. And a lot of times that art is ephemeral, like even the memorial for George Floyd. Adam was saying that at some point, they're gonna have to take it down because the businesses that are there will have to just go back to business. But they're able to create these ephemeral memorials that are coming up and creating the space for people to come together and to grieve and honor the lives that have been lost. And if people around the world start to capture these different memorials, then that can just start to create this archive to be shared in real time for what's happening right now. But also, there's a big impulse of what Alton was saying is that this is a real big turning point in history that people will be looking back upon. And so people in the future will be able to come back into the present and to be able to be really dropped into what's happening within these different movements. And I think there's a lot of things like that that are difficult to recreate within a virtual simulation. I know there's a lot of people who are not a big fan of 360 video, but I think And pieces like this, especially five to 10 to 20 years from now, they're going to be so valuable to be able to help ground people into the emotion of this moment. Not just like intellectually thinking about it or seeing a 2D image, but to really drop you into the experience of this movement that's emerging right now. So I'm really excited to see how this series continues to unfold. You know, it's produced by Oculus for good, and it's on Oculus TV if you want to check it out. And, you know, it can be a little bit difficult to find it, even just to share it and share URLs. So there's a lot of stuff that I think Oculus TV needs to Improve in order to make it easier to watch it and share it out because I think it does Get a little bit lost if it's in there and it's people see it It's you know How do you go about even sharing it aside from telling people? You have to go in there and there's not even really a functional search to be able to find it So it's of the moment right now. So it's at least near the top, but I'm sure they'll be making more adjustments and improvements there so it's just easier to share pieces like this, especially 360 video within the context of the oculus TV app and So just some final thoughts here. Adam had said that, you know, they really wanted to encourage people to see this piece and just to be sitting in their feelings and their emotions, even if they're uncomfortable. And that was a thing that Alton had said, is that to really bring about that level of empathy that goes beyond just the sympathy, then to really understand someone else's experiences, sometimes it may be a moment of being uncomfortable about what is happening and the reality of the situation. And to be able to create that discomfort, and then from that discomfort to be able to then have different conversations and discourse that follow from that. So to embrace that this is an uncomfortable issue, but yet it's a reality that still continues to play out with all these levels of racial bias but also embedded into a deeper systemic racism within our society and to really look at it and interrogate it and to see this is an issue that spans across both the collective level but also everybody has some role to play. You know, they're trying to use the Black Lives Matter movement to help instill a sense of pride and identity and worth and that these stories are important and they're worth telling and they're worth listening to and worth bearing witness to. And then in that, then VR could be a part of helping to bring about this larger paradigm shift, which is to really drop yourself into these stories and these experiences and this larger movement and to see if it's going to bring about a larger shift in people's perspectives and from those perspectives then how that gets turned out into the behavior that happens both at the individual level and eventually at the collective level as well. So that's all that I have for today and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast and if you enjoy the podcast then please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a less-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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