VR Experience Takes Users Inside Attack on Tulsa’s Black Wall Street

By Sameer Rao Oct 01, 2018

A forthcoming virtual reality (VR) project aims to preserve the memory of the 1921 Tulsa massacre, in which both White mobs and privately commissioned bomber planes burned the Black commercial corridor of Greenwood to the ground and slaughtered hundreds of its Black residents

"As we approach the centennial of this event, survivors in their early 100s are still fighting for recognition," cinematographer Ayana Baraka ("Behind the Curtain: Eclipsed") writes about her project "Greenwood Avenue" on its crowdfunding page at SeedandSpark.com. "However, their stories remain largely untold. Although this story is almost 100 years old, it is reflective of an America that, in many ways, is still racially divided today."

The experience, which will live on YouTube’s VR platform, takes users through the vivid memories of Agnes Bess, a fictional elderly Black survivor of the violence. Baraka and her "Greenwood Avenue" colleagues draw from historical sources, including a first-person interview with centenarian survivor Dr. Olivia J. Hooker, to authentically represent the experience of living in the affluent Black neighborhood during the devastation. 

"Although America’s Black Wall Street is long gone, participants will believe that they are experiencing history," Baraka writes. "We have done painstaking research to ensure that the sights and sounds are specific to the time and place. Powerful live-action performances blended with accurate, masterfully, created CGI backgrounds will be like nothing that has been done before."

Baraka’s collaborators include writer/director Velissa Spade Robinson ("Bad Hair") and composer Jongnic Bontemps ("United Skates"). The crowdfunding campaign seeks $15,000 in funds before its conclusion this Thursday (October 4). Money from the campaign supports post-production costs for visual effects, publicity, festival travel and payment of the cast and crew. Those who donate can receive gifts like a screen-printed shirt with an image of Greenwood before the violence, production credits and a cinematography workshop from Baraka. 

Watch Baraka explain the project: