A pastoral scene of rolling hills, a lake, and a winding road are indicated with soft, round shapes in varying shades of pale greens. In the center of the image are the words TRAVELING WHILE BLACK. Hovering above these word is a simple drawing of a car, seen from the back. The driver has their hands in the air; a police officer stands outside, arms extended, at the driver’s door.

Traveling While Black

Traveling While Black
Friday, August 13 through Friday, November 12 (no showings on Mondays or Tuesdays)
Every hour on the hour, 12 p.m. through 7 p.m.
Richards Gallery at the Ferst Center for the Arts
Seating is limited

In this 20-minute, 360-degree virtual reality experience, you will sit with African American visitors at the famed Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C. as they share a moment of honest discussion, reflecting on their experiences of restricted movement and race relations in the U.S.

Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams’ finely crafted film highlights the urgent need to remember this past, build critical empathy, and facilitate a dialogue about the challenges minority travelers still face today.

The stories told in Traveling While Black offer a multi-generational experience that can be shared by all. After the VR experience, participants will have the opportunity to gather in the lobby to reflect and respond. Please be aware that some of the stories shared include difficult images, language, and slurs experienced by the story tellers.

Participants will wear Oculus GO virtual reality headsets that will be cleaned and disinfected between each showing.

Not recommended for children under age 13.

Presented by Georgia Tech Arts in partnership with Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

 

DIRECTORS’ STATEMENT

“Traveling While Black” was inspired by the Negro Motorist Green Book – a survival guide written by Victor Green first published in 1936 - that African American travelers relied on to avoid brutal discrimination. It listed safe places that would fulfill their basic needs and was used throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s.

This was a time when travel for black people was a matter of life and death, so for me, the project started as a way to talk about this forgotten period in history. But the more I began to think about the past, I realized that not a lot has changed today. I thought of Henry Louis Gates being harassed standing on his front porch, Ving Rhames being held at gunpoint in the doorway to his home and Tamir Rice, a child, who was shot and killed in a playground in his own neighborhood.

These and countless other incidents remind me that the risk we face just leaving our homes and our need for safe spaces are just as prevalent as they were during the days of the Green Book.

As a black person you feel a sense of relief when you enter a safe space and you don’t have to be on guard. We're often always on guard. When I walk down the street, especially if I see a police officer, I tense up. If I'm driving somewhere and a cop car starts to follow me, I get nervous. There's a violent history that comes with traveling while black in America and as a black person you carry that history with you.

Traveling While Black is a way to revisit that history but it's also a way to talk about the present and hopefully start conversations about solutions for the future.

We started this project eight years ago where it began as a play in Washington D.C., produced by Bonnie Nelson Schwartz, starring the late, great Julian Bond. We then spent several years collecting and filming stories of African American travel before deciding virtual reality was the best platform for this film.

I chose to do this through VR because I felt this was a fresh way to have a profound conversation about race in America through a genuinely immersive lens. When you experience this documentary in VR it's all around you and you can't escape it. In the same way we can't escape our blackness, or the reality of being black in America, I didn't want people to be able to escape the experience that they're having when they watch Traveling While Black. I wanted them to be fully immersed, and that's something you can only do with VR.

Victor Green, the author of the Green Book, writes “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States”. While the Green Book is no longer published, the need for resources and safe spaces still remains to this day. There is still an ongoing crisis in America, traveling while black is still a matter of life and death.”

Roger Ross Williams