In Traveling While Black VR, the immersion of 360° footage draws us into living history lessons told around a booth in Ben’s Chili Bowl. The Washington, D.C., restaurant has been a mainstay of the African-American community since 1958, bearing witness to significant Civil Rights milestones that are woven into the film in powerful snippets of footage. From the stirring memories of Civil Rights leader Courtland Cox to the heartbreaking words of Samaria Rice, whose young son Tamir was killed by police in 2014, VR allows Williams to connect the parallels of the past to the present.
Williams was moved to tears the first time he watched the completed film.“It was an unbelievable deep cry that was all of this pain coming to the surface,” he says, noting that people of all skin colors have had similar reactions. “I think what they all are reacting to is this profound, empathetic place of pain and suffering.” For Williams, when a viewer is immersed in the experience, they’re moved to take action.
Says one viewer who grew up during the Civil Rights era, “Stories have the power to change us.” Another viewer who came of age in the 1960s notes that the film’s storytelling offers an opportunity for healing, allowing viewers to see through a lens they can never experience. Williams hopes to spur conversations about these longtime restrictions of movement and inspire viewers to consider solutions. “How do we gain empathy for what it’s like to be a black person in America, past, present and future?” he asks us.