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Emmy-Nominated “Traveling While Black” Doc Uses Virtual Reality To Promote Social Change

By Danielle Dorsey

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The new “Traveling While Black” virtual reality (VR) documentary from Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams seeks to elicit social change by introducing viewers to the realities of navigating the world as an African-American. The film brings “The Negro Motorist’s Green Book” to life, juxtaposing a recreated 1950s South with current events to show how society has (or hasn’t) changed since desegregation. 

Williams won an Oscar for his 2010 documentary “Music by Prudence,” but this is the filmmaker’s first foray into the VR format. 

In an interview with Indiewire, Williams said, “It was definitely a challenge, but also exciting to flex different muscles and learn a lot about this relatively new medium. I don’t believe VR as a tool of social justice or advocacy is a common idea yet, and I think there’s a great potential with it to change perspectives on a story, and for audiences to really experience a story in a new way that is more impactful.”

“Traveling While Black” reintroduces audience members to the story of the “The Negro Motorist’s Green Bookwith an in-depth profile of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Black-owned restaurant in Washington, D.C. founded in 1958 that was once included in the travel guide. Unlike the 2019 Oscar-winning film Green Book, which tells the story of a white chauffeur employed by a touring Black musician, Williams’ VR documentary links Jim Crow policies to the systemic abuses that many still face today. The 19-minute movie is already nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Original Interactive Program. 

Ross Williams is currently working on a docu-series for Netflix and a narrative film for Amazon Studios. “Traveling While Black” is available to watch in the Oculus Store for Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, and Gear VR. 

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