How VR Can Help Bring A New Understanding to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Oculus Blog
January 12, 2023

TL;DR: Today, to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’re proud to announce the launch of MLK: Now Is the Time—the latest project from Meta’s VR for Good initiative. A new VR experience from TIME Studios and Flight School Studios, MLK: Now Is the Time explores Dr. King’s society-changing “I Have a Dream” speech and its impact on the American Civil Rights Movement. In addition, you can watch The March 360, a digital reenactment of The March on Washington in Meta Horizon Worlds* this week, or experience it anytime on Meta Quest TV.

A fist in the air, held high with purpose and conviction: it’s one of the most powerful symbols signifying struggle, resistance, and solidarity. And it’s a unifying physical statement that connects people fighting against injustice today to those who were inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.

It’s been 60 years since Dr. King’s speech, and numerous recent events have shown that its themes are as relevant today as they were in 1963. But beyond the “I have a dream” line itself, many people know little about his searing oratory in front of the more than 250,000 people who’d traveled to the nation’s capital to demand racial equality at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And many have never had the experience of raising their fist in solidarity for an ideal of human justice while inspiring those around them to do the same.

Illustrating and illuminating the themes of the “I Have a Dream” speech, MLK: Now Is the Time, is a new immersive VR experience directed by Limbert Fabian and written by Andrina Smith that we’re honored to launch today. It’s our latest VR for Good project, and it brings several of the messages of Dr. King’s speech—vital elements like inexcusable barriers to equality in areas of policing, housing, and voting— into anyone’s home.

MLK: Now Is the Time isn’t simply a recording; it’s an experience that blends footage of Dr. King’s speech with new interactive elements. It urges the viewer to participate by engaging in educational interactions about the struggles that Dr. King raised in 1963.

In doing so, it helps people identify personally with three key themes of Dr. King’s speech and asks you to think about what his words mean for millions struggling with the same dynamics today. While immersed in the experience of being at Dr. King’s speech, you’ll see that these struggles against inequality can only be overcome when we are united: as you raise your fist, it inspires others around you, and by the end of the experience, they follow suit.

“That speech is a calling on the country to consider a baseline for all its citizens,” says Fabian. “I didn’t want you to only stand and listen to his words—I wanted to start you off with them and then lead you into a discussion about how they feel today. And I wanted to find that with each moment in the speech, we were getting closer to him.”

The experience takes advantage of the sense of intimacy that VR can offer, putting the viewer right in the middle of this historic, transformative event. “One of the amazing things about VR and our metaverse work is that it creates opportunities for transformative learning in a way we've never experienced before,” says Roy L. Austin Jr, Meta’s vice president of Civil Rights and Deputy General Counsel. “We can simultaneously document, educate, and experience history in a way that furthers our understanding and progress today.”

MLK: Now Is The Time is the ideal next project in our ongoing VR for Good initiative, which funds, fosters and promotes immersive storytelling focused on social impact while harnessing the unique capabilities of the medium to create human-centric stories promoting empathy and empowerment.

Hope never dies

For many, Dr. King represented hope; Fabian and Smith want their project to help people remember that feeling, and to understand that progress has been made in the years since Dr. King’s speech. Yet it also reminds us that even today, millions of Americans are still grappling with the same inequalities Dr. King was battling against. Limbert and Smith want to honor and respect those still fighting King’s fight.

MLK: Now Is the Time presents viewers with a set of interactive vignettes that encapsulate the indignity of struggling with policing, housing, and voting inequality. “If the audience takes their headset off and feels like this was something they could only have done in VR, that’s a win,” says Fabian. “I wanted the audience to walk away feeling that Dr. King’s words are relevant today—and perhaps even motivate them to engage in activism at a local level.”

Just as importantly, the experience strives to educate people about the history of the Civil Rights Movement—while advancing the conversation about racism and injustice that Dr. King embodied so eloquently throughout his life—by using new strategies to inspire people to think critically. Fabian hopes that the project will introduce Dr. King’s words to new audiences for the first time. He pictures a future in which high school students learn about the Civil Rights Movement and turn to MLK: Now Is The Time as a tool for immersing themselves not only in the text of the “I Have a Dream” speech, but also in its themes, and for learning how Dr. King’s words were intended to push America into a future of racial equality.

While many people have seen the recording of Dr. King’s speech, they’ve only watched it in 2D. Now anyone with a Meta Quest can feel like they’re at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with thousands of others for one of the most significant days in civil rights history. And they can live through visceral demonstrations of the inequalities Dr. King highlighted. MLK: Now Is the Time translates the narrative of Dr. King’s words in ways that traditional film never could. “We wanted to create a piece that paid homage to Dr. King’s incredible legacy in a language that connects with the current generation,” says Smith. “When we relegate stories of the past to antiquated devices, we risk leaving those stories behind.”

Check out MLK: Now Is the Time in Meta Horizon Worlds* between January 12 and January 17, or watch it anytime on Meta Quest TV.

*Meta Horizon Worlds is currently available to people 18+ in the US, Canada, the UK, Iceland, Ireland, France, and Spain on Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro.