• During the past year, more than one-in-five people in Australia have experienced racial discrimination and abuse. (SBS)Source: SBS
Do you need to experience racism in order to feel empathy for the victims of racist attacks? A new virtual reality video from SBS will transport users into the receiving end of a racist spray to see how they cope. Expect it to be uncomfortable and deeply personal.
Sharon Verghis

24 Feb 2017 - 12:38 PM  UPDATED 26 Jun 2018 - 2:42 PM

What does it feel like to be on the receiving end of a racist spray? To be minding your business on a bus or train and be suddenly attacked for your skin colour or eye shape? 

Racism is a deeply visceral, personal experience for those targeted. To demonstrate the grave impact that such an attack can have on an individual, SBS has launched a dramatic and confronting virtual reality video, Is Australia Racist?, which is now available on SBS’s virtual reality app.

Using immersive, dramatic and empathy-building storytelling techniques, the VR video makes the abstract – racism in Australia - highly and uncomfortably personal. It also enables users to step into the skin - and daily reality – of someone of a minority background as they navigate their way through life.

The eight-minute film can be watched via a VR headset on the SBS VR app which can be downloaded for Apple iOS and Google Android.

Created as a seated experience, and delivered as a real-­time, interactive project on the latest HTC Vive or Oculus Rift CV1 virtual reality systems, the progression of the narrative will be event-based and viewer-gaze triggered.

Viewers will be transported into a single scene lasting around five minutes, trapped in an ugly situation which quickly escalates and over which they have no control. In a range of dramatic scenarios, you face a hostile white Islamophobe on a train and confront everything on the racism spectrum from snide looks to shocking verbal rage.

It aims to replicate the feeling of helplessness and shock that victims of racism experience in these encounters. 

What to do if you witness a racial attack
Almost 40 per cent of racial attacks occur in public spaces, yet almost half of us are too unsure – or unwilling – to intervene. Dilvin Yasa explains how to react and make a difference.

During the past year, more than one-in-five people in Australia have experienced racial discrimination and abuse. This is according to a study on racism in Australia, commissioned by SBS from Western Sydney University. 

But hopefully, the video - in some small part - will help to turn the nationwide situation around. The aim of the VR video, says its creative director Dan Brown, is to build empathy in users. Three-dimensional storytelling platforms can often be far more potent and in-your-face than watching a documentary told through traditional means. 

"In a range of dramatic scenarios, you face a hostile white Islamophobe on a train and confront everything on the racism spectrum from snide looks to shocking verbal rage."

This video is designed to augment the messages and complement the SBS documentary, Is Australia Racist? airing on Sunday 26 February on SBS at 8.30pm.

Based on reports of true events, first-hand testimony and using raw dialogue from real incidents, “it was shot using a 3D VR camera on a real bus in two single takes,” says Brown. “I think VR is so cool because it transports you to a different time and place so quickly.

“It's a bit like shooting a live play, you can't cut or edit it. The performance just unfolds in front of you.

“The script was written based on actual experiences that we had researched for the documentary that goes with it.”

Brown explains that the team conducted a large survey and found that public transport was a hotspot for race attacks.

“VR is so immersive and works so powerfully to create empathy, I believe that a VR experience goes someway to creating a memory as if you were there.”

“I think VR lends itself perfectly to any subject where you want the viewer to "feel" want something is like rather than just watch.”

Dramatic sound design and 3D graphics will bring the experience to life. Confronting narratives include the viewer assuming the identity of a young Muslim woman who is being verbally attacked on a train by an angry white male after speaking Arabic on her phone. 

Face Up To Racism #FU2Racism with a season of stories and programs challenging preconceptions around race and prejudice.

Tune in to watch Is Australia Racist? (airs on Sunday 26 February at 8.30pm), Date My Race (airs Monday 27 February at 8.30pm) and The Truth About Racism (airs Wednesday 1 March at 8.30pm).

Watch all the documentaries online after they air on SBS On Demand. 

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