VR Documentary Highlights The Struggles Of African Americans During The Jim Crow Era
‘Traveling While Black’ details the importance of the Green Book for Black America in the early to mid 1900’s.
For African Americans traveling through the ‘Deep South’ of the United States during the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, The Green Book was an absolute essential publication. Penned by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green in 1936, The Green Book was an annual guidebook that informed travelers of various services and establishments known to be welcoming to the African American community; a potential life-saver for those living through the era of heinous Jim Crow laws.
Making its debut at this years Sundance Film Festival, Traveling While Black, a new VR documentary from veteran VR developers Felix & Paul, honors the legacy of the revolutionary publication, shining a brighter light on the tragic history of constricted movement and dangerous traveling conditions for African Americans.
Produced in collaboration with The New York Times Op-Docs, the 360-degree live action film takes place within Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington D.C. food establishment that served as a safe haven for African American travelers throughout many turbulent years. Originally a silent movie theater, then a pool hall, Ben’s Chili Bowl would eventually go on to serve as a symbolic representation of the hardships faced by African American motorists well into the 1960’s.
Throughout the 360-degree documentary, Ben’s serves as the set for several interviews featuring various African Americans who have faced difficulties as a result of their race. Viewers will listen to various stories, including that of an older woman who recounts her first-hand experience with racism in the 1960’s, as well as a more recent incident which lead to the death of an innocent African American teen.
As these witnesses provide their harrowing accounts of discrimination, the walls and ceiling of Ben’s Chili Bowl are illuminated with black-and-white footage of multiple African American struggles, as well as a helping of various visual aids to better immerse users into their situations. During one instance, for example, I listened to an older gentlemen describe the difficulties of traveling on “colored-only” buses. As he recounts all the sordid details while sitting in a booth at Ben’s, I turned to my right to discover the mirror on the wall displaying a young, mid-1960’s African-American bus passenger looking out the window, almost as if I were looking back at my own reflection.
“It started as a need to talk about this forgotten period,” explains Co-Director Roger Ross Williams. “It’s about connecting the past to the present and explaining to people that we, as Black people in America, are at risk every time we step out the front door. There’s a history that makes you anxious and tense because you carry it with you everywhere you go.”
“Traveling While Black stands out as a timely, impactful look on the history and present tense reality of being black in America,” adds Kathleen Lingo, Editorial Director for film & TV for The New York Times. “Op-Docs is honored to publish it as our 300th film that both has a strong point of view and uses the innovative storytelling space of VR to tackle such an important subject.”
Traveling While Black is available now for free via Oculus. If you own either an Oculus Go or Oculus Rift, I highly suggest taking 25 minutes out of your day to experience this eye-opening emotional rollercoaster. Absolutely captivating stories combined with incredibly well-done 360-degree filmmaking make this a can’t miss experience.