Black Panther’s Winston Duke Stars in VR Experience About Race

Nikki Diefenbach

Van Jones’ popular series The Messy Truth focuses on bridge-building across all the lines that divide us. The latest piece stars Winston Duke (Black Panther’s M’Baku) who plays the father of a 12-year-old Black boy. It is not only filmed in 360-degree Virtual Reality, it also uses Leap Motion hand-tracking so the viewer is right in their shoes and shares in the experience.

In essence, the viewer becomes a small, black child in a car being driven around by their father as they are pulled over by the police. Jones says the incident is a true-to-life experience based off a real police incident and it is very disturbing. It gives the viewer an idea of what it feels like to be a black child whose father is being harassed by the police.

"The Messy Truth VR Experience" won the Social Justice Award at the Lumiere Awards, which recognizes outstanding international achievement in the creation of immersive storytelling using advanced visual technologies. There are plans to take "The Messy Truth VR Experience" on tour nationwide so that many people can be exposed to it. Jones also intends to create many other VR pieces on real-to-life experiences including coal miners, people who are addicted to opioids, and women who are being harassed at work.

Van Jones, on “The Messy Truth VR Experience”:

Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to truly understand what a person of a different race, gender or worldview is going through, but a Virtual Reality experience can give life-changing insight. VR has the potential to be the world’s most powerful tool for generating empathy and understanding. It’s time to start using this new technology to bring us together across old divides...we want to use Virtual Reality to put you in a different body with different circumstances and hopefully people will understand each other a little bit better...we want to use these things not just as toys but as tools to bring us together.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. What are the benefits of empathy as seen in your own life and in your community?

Q2. What other issues in society do you think “The Messy Truth VR Experience” should highlight in its series?

Q3. What other technologies can we use as tools to bring us together and build empathy?