Virtual Reality Film Lets Viewers Experience ‘Traveling While Black’

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Aug 27, 2019

Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams created the Emmy-nominated virtual reality film “Traveling While Black” so that everyone could experience what being Black in America really feels like. “You don’t think about VR as a tool of social justice,” Williams told Deadline in an article published on Monday (August 26).

“The main thing about VR is that you are totally 100 percent immersed in a story,” Williams said. “It allows the viewer, whether the viewer is a [Black person] who has experienced this [racial animus]–all [Blacks] have—or even if you’re not, you get to be in a Black space that you normally wouldn’t have access to, and really experience that sense of community that happens in places like Ben’s Chili Bowl and places in ‘The Green Book.’”

“Traveling While Black” was inspired by the 1936 survival guide “The Green Book,” which listed safe places for Black travelers to avoid brutal discrimination, and included Ben and Virginia Ali’s restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, in Washington, D.C., which was added to the list in 1958. Unlike the Oscar-winning 2018 film “Green Book,” Williams’ film focuses on the present and includes footage of pivotal moments, such as the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers and testimony from Samaria Rice, whose 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by a Cleveland police officer. 

“I think we all know America hasn’t really dealt with the issues around racism, and slavery and the legacy of slavery,” Williams said. “I think that we have to have, in a way, ‘conversation starters,’ and I hope that this VR piece, ‘Traveling While Black,’ is just that.”

Watch the film’s trailer below: