Greenwood Avenue: A Virtual Reality Experience
As we approach the centennial of the Tulsa Massacre, survivors in their early 100s are still fighting for recognition. However, their stories remain largely untold and remains timely as it is reflective of an America that, in many ways, is still racially divided today.
Keep it Colorful
Inclusion StatementThis project in driven by black women and centers a fictional black woman, Agnes Bess. We are preserving the story of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 in which 300 African-Americans were killed and thousands of Black-owned homes and businesses were burned to the ground.
About The Project
Greenwood Avenue is a groundbreaking, emotional exploration into the lives of the African-Americans living in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921,during the era of Black Wall Street, the second rise of the KKK, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, told through the eyes of an elderly Black female protagonist named Agnes Bess. Our hope is to start with Greenwood Avenue: A Virtual Reality Experience and expand into telling more stories about Black history.
As an American woman, I am enamored with our diverse and storied history, but there are parts of American history that are not included in books. I believe and trust that folks want to know the truth about our history and want to do better for our future.
I would like to tell the story of Agnes Bess, an elderly African-American female protagonist and the other residents of the Greenwood District, also known as America's "Black Wall Street", during the Race Riot of 1921. Agnes Bess is a fictional character created to tell the story of this historical event.
Over the course of two days, three hundred African-Americans were killed and thousands of Black-owned homes and businesses were burned to the ground in the spring of 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. These events were ignited by the 1915 KKK supported film release of Birth of a Nation, which led to a rise in the unjust lynching of Blacks.
As we approach the centennial of this event, survivors in their early 100s are still fighting for recognition. 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.
I propose that we share this history through a series of short stories based on the people who lived in Tulsa, OK in the 1920’s. Doing so will help us acknowledge our troubled US history and forge a new path for our future.
VR was chosen for this story because it is experiential. Virtual reality will move the story along in a meaningful way, and allow participants to have a first hand experience.
Because this story is based on history, it is imperative that we get it right. We have researched the early 1920’s and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by reading books, watching documentaries, and have visited North Tulsa, Oklahoma (aka Black Wall Street & The Greenwood District). Fortunately, we have been able to meet and film one of the last surviving members of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Dr. Olivia Hooker. She is one-hundred-and-two-years old. She remembers the event and details about 1920’s Tulsa. Also, she is the first African-American woman to join the US Coast Guard and was honored by President Obama. Dr. Hooker has provided us with a first-hand account of what Tulsa, OK was like in the 1920s. It is important for us to create a realistic VR environment. We have over two hours of recorded footage from my interviews with Dr. Hooker.
Although America’s Black Wall Street is long gone, participants will believe that they are experiencing history. 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.
Like in stage plays performers will play towards the participant (camera), making eye-contact. It should feel like you are inside of Agnes’ body (“Being John Malkovich”).
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About This Team
Content Creator, Ayana Baraka
Ayana Baraka was the Cinematographer for Behind the Curtain: Eclipsed, starring Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira. She was also a Cinematographer on The Hunting Ground, a documentary directed by Kirby Dick (Invisible War) and edited by Doug Blush (20 Feet From Stardom), which premiered at Sundance 2015 and was short listed for the 2016 Oscar for Best Feature Documentary. In 2013, Baraka became IATSE Local 600 Camera Union qualified and has worked on feature films like Black Nativity and The Amazing Spiderman II. She was named a person on the rise in Hollywood by Producer Mel Jones in an October 2015 Amsterdam News article. She is a winner of the 2016 award for Best Cinematography at the Victoria TX Independent Film Festival.
Baraka is currently shooting a BET International documentary series called My Heritage. She is the content creator for a virtual reality experience about Black Wall Street and the Race Riot of 1921. Baraka is a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts film program and holds an MFA in Film and Television Production.
Writer/ Director, Velissa Space Robinson
Spade Robinson is an award winning filmmaker, screenwriter, actress and comedienne with experience that spans feature film, documentary, television, commercial and stage. Spade is a master's alumnus of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where she emphasized writing and directing, completing her MFA in Film and Television Production. Since then, she's been commissioned to direct and produce commercial content for by clients ranging from Time Warner and Sundance Institute to Peculiar People and Finding Charlie. Her original works include award winning films such as Seen Also In Men, The Wedding and The Love Life of A Black Girl as well as a host of feature screenplays and television pilots. Her feature directorial debut, Bad Hair, is currently in post-production. She's directed both contemporary and classical stage plays including Starting Monday, A Mid Summer's Night Dream, and A Lesson Before Dying. Independent plays include Black Voices and Pocketbook.
Spade's work as an actress spans film, television, commercial and stage. Notable works in film include the leads in The Wedding and The Love Life of a Black Girl, in film and Antigone and Starting Monday on stage. Her extensive work in supporting women storytellers and storytellers of color birthed her consulting firm, Story Consulting Services, a company designed to drive the most compelling version of stories for independent artists and corporations. In 2017, after changing her first name from Velissa to Spade, she founded Spade Ink, a production company to finance, develop and produce a diverse slate of projects spanning feature film, documentary, television and digital. Spade is currently in development on several film and television projects. She lives in Los Angeles.
Writer, Suzen Baraka-Sweeney, ESQ.
Suzen Baraka Sweeney is a multi-talented poet, writer, actor and activist who has been performing for over 17 years. An award-winning performer, Suzen has competed nationally in both speech forensics and in spoken word, including with the Newark, New Jersey Slam Team in Austin, Texas, affirming her exceptional skill as an artist. Although working full time as an attorney, Suzen regularly features at the Nuyorican Poets Café for a number of spoken word installations, including Verses, and was two-time Slam Champion of the Big Mouth Bout. Most recently, Suzen featured in the Insurgent Poets Society’s Asian American in America, and currently, Suzen tours nationally in a production entitled Herstory (2009-Present), a four-woman show on race and gender issues.
Committed to providing art to the disenfranchised, Suzen assisted in the creation and development of the Artist Life League with model Q-Chi and actor Mel Jackson. During this time, Suzen was also an artist in residence for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), teaching poetry and performance to underprivileged children in Irvington and Newark. Additionally, Suzen assisted with the launch of NJLEEP, and continued teaching writing classes to high school students from Newark, East Orange and Jersey City.
Alongside Grammy-award winning musician Bilal, Suzen also produced and co-hosted Flow for Change, a monthly spoken word series that raised funds for Voices of New York, a nonprofit that provided arts education to children. Flow for Change included performances by Black Ice, Beau Sia, Queen GodIs, Mums and Joshua Bennett among others.
Executive Producer, Patrick Parker
Patrick Parker leads the customer strategy and retail execution of Johnson & Johnson’s U.S. Oral Care portfolio. Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson in 2015, Patrick spent the past 10 years leading marketing and sales initiatives from ideation to execution across multiple consumer goods organizations.
Patrick has a strong passion for serving the community through various mentorship programs. Furthermore, one of his philanthropic missions includes supporting educational initiatives through fundraising. He is currently the Executive Producer for Greenwood Avenue: A Virtual Reality Experience and has successfully raised over twenty-thousand dollars.
Patrick holds a Bachelor’s degree in Supply Chain & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Rutgers Business School.
Executive Producer, Vangelis Lympouridis, PhD
Vangelis Lympouridis is the founder of Enosis VR, the company behind Google’s Bohemian Rhapsody Experience, released September 2016. ENOSIS produces innovative fully immersive musical experiences in collaboration with leading industry partners such as Google and Dolby Laboratories that aim to expand the way people experience music using truly surround sound techniques, interactivity and full immersion.
Lympouridis was the head of research and production in Virtual Reality and Whole Body Interaction at Mark Bolas’ famous MxR Studio. Additionally, Lympouridis has been Producer on many VR projects including Nonny de la Pena's immersive journalism pieces Project Syria: An Immersive Experience that was commissioned and premiered at the World Economic Forum in Davos and exhibited at the Sundance Film festival and the Victoria and Albert museum in London; Use of Force that was funded by Tribeca and AP Google and premiered at Tribeca film festival and IndieCade where it received the social impact award; and F1 a cinematic VR immersive experience that was premiered at the F1 GP in Singapore. He holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, with his research fully funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, UK.
Producer, Kenya Uhuru
Kenya Uhuru is a filmmaker and philanthropist whose goal is to embrace the true authenticity of the human experience though producing socially conscious films.
While pursuing her MFA at the USC School of Cinematic Arts she created documentaries, fiction films and television shows. She has worked on projects such as beautiFULL-FIGURED, Shangri-Lost, Fruit of the Spirit, The Teacher's Lounge, and The Comeback Kid. Uhuru contributed to the reemergence of the African American Cinema Society at USC by serving as the Treasurer and Vice-President.
With roots in Tulsa, Okalhoma where Uhuru lived for seven years, she has always wanted to share the history of American’s Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. This is her first collaboration with Ayana Baraka.
Virtual Reality Producer, Emily Cooper
Emily is currently working as a new media Director + Writer + Producer. Beyond production work she acts as a consultant for several production houses and teaches 360/VR workshops.
Over the last six months she has created experiences for AT&T, BET, Hills Pet Food, and Microsoft.
Emily specializes in creating content that is story driven. Whether she is covering protests in Washington DC, pipeline debates in middle America, branded content for top companies, unique music scenes in South America, reproductive rights in the south, or creating in-engine magical worlds for youth- passion for story is what drives Emily.
Emily Cooper got her start in Virtual Reality at Robert Stromberg's The Virtual Reality Company as their first outside hire. During her time at VRC, Emily focused on live action Virtual Reality testing. She worked with multiple Grammy Award winning artists, olympic athletes, and notable studios. She directed the VR for the 2016 Interactive Emmy Finalist project, The World Cup of Hip Hop: Take Back the Mic. Emily has traveled domestically and internationally directing/producing multiple Virtual Reality and 360 projects. Her experience varies from covering current events, in-depth doc-series, live sports, and music.
AD/ Associate Producer, Osahon Tongo
Osahon Tongo is a Los Angeles based writer and director. Tongo is a former ACC Champion football player at Georgia Tech, where he earned a Bachelors degree in Business Management. He worked in digital marketing at CNN and Emory University before earning a Masters in Fine Arts at USC School of Cinematic Arts. Tongo is part of the filming team that executed the Question Bridge installation that lives in The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He is one of the inaugural Ryan Murphy Half Foundation Directing Fellows. He is currently writing a feature film for Significant Productions. Tongo is an activist for student-athlete rights and mental health awareness. He has created content for Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, Unicef, Pulse Films, Trevor Noah, Blavity, Stone & Co., USC Media Institute for Social Change, and Saks Institute for Mental Health Law and Ethics.
VFX Mentor, Eric Hanson
Eric Hanson has worked with noted visual effects houses such as Digital Domain, Sony Imageworks, Dream Quest Images, and Walt Disney Feature Animation. His credits include The Fifth Element (1997), Bicentennial Man (1999), Cast Away (2000), Hollow Man (2000), Mission to Mars (2000), Spider-Man (2002) and Atlantis as well as many special-venue films.
In addition to his visual effects classes at USC, Hanson has led courses on advanced effects techniques at Silicon Studio and Gnomon School of Visual Effects and is a member of the Visual Effects Society. Above all, Hanson wishes he could sleep more.
Composer, Jongnic Bontemps
Jongnic Bontemps, aka “JB”, is a classically trained composer with roots in the church and jazz world as a pianist. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York he studied music at Yale, Berklee and the University of Southern California. Earlier in his career, JB worked as a software developer and startup executive in New York City and later Silicon Valley before his startup was sold to HP enabling him to pursue his first love, music. He was selected as a Sundance Lab Composer Fellow in 2013 and received a Time Warner Artist Fellowship in 2014. JB brings complexity, cleverness and a musical edge to every project he approaches.
JB composed music for over 50 projects spanning Film, TV and Video Games. His work has been heard in various award winning films at Cannes, Warsaw Film Festival, Pan African American Film Fest, American Black Film Fest, as well as networks like HBO, BET, Disney and cinemas worldwide.
Working alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest film composers like Alan Silverstri, Alexandre Desplat, Bruce Broughton, Danny Elfman, Christopher Lennertz, Christophe Beck, Marco Beltrami and Theodore Shapiro, has given JB real-life experience in scoring for studio features as well as independent films. Jongnic also collaborated with Erykah Badu and NAS on the original song 'This Bitter Land' for the Sundance film 'The Land'.
Sound Designer, Jan Bezouska
Jan Bezouska grew up in Prague a film making family. His father is a screenwriter and his mother is an actress. Movies were naturally a big part of his life. Bezouska come from the first generation of Czech people that were able to study abroad after the fall of the iron curtain. That is why upon finishing his Bachelors in Film Sound in 2008 he came to the the states as an exchange student where he began his Masters at West Virginia State University. Then moving to Los Angeles to study at USC where he received his Masters of Fine Arts in Film and TV Production specializing in sound. For the past four years, he has been working at various studios and production companies as a freelance Sound Editor, Re-recording Mixer and Sound Designer working on features, TV, documentaries, shorts and commercials. Sound is his passion, his career and he is devoted to continued work in sound.
Impact Producer, Michelle Zei
Michelle Zei manages marketing, distribution, and impact for independent films. She is also a writer and has contributed to publications including PAPER Magazine, Arts & Understanding, Global Grind, and NPR. She has also worked in Sundance's Diversity Initiative for the Film Collaborative (where she worked on distribution for films including: 1971, (T)ERROR, Song from the Forest, etc.
Zei is originally from Baltimore, Maryland and currently resides in Los Angeles, California. Her roots are in non-profit and community media where she worked on a variety of social justice issues with grassroots organizations, youth initiatives, and unions. She develop ways for media projects/ films to propel social issues into public discourse. She is drawn to projects that engage youth and reach audiences in non-traditional ways to make the arts more accessible.