New virtual reality exhibit at DuSable lets users experience Dr. King’s ‘Dream’

TIME Studios’ groundbreaking, immersive experience, “The March,” bringing Martin Luther King, Jr. to virtual reality for the first time, gets its national debut this Friday at Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History.

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“What’s unique about this experience is that you’re in it, you’re not listening to it, you are in it. You’re looking in Dr. King’s eyes, and there is a point where you are listening to that speech for the very first time,” said actress/producer Viola Davis about “The March,” a VR experience of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

In a historic first, museum-goers will be able to travel back in time to the 1963 March on Washington and see Dr. Martin Luther King give his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech in what’s described as the most life-like and realistic human performance in virtual reality ever.

TIME Studios’ groundbreaking, immersive experience, “The March,” bringing Dr. King to virtual reality for the first time, gets its national debut this Friday at Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History.

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Its preview Wednesday night drew local and national personalities to the South Side museum, including the children of the revered civil rights leader, Bernice and Martin Luther King III.

“It’s my hope that as people experience this virtual reality segment of my father’s ‘I Have A Dream,’ some will be inspired to go and listen to the entire speech, because he essentially laid out some fundamental truths of the time that still stand,” said Bernice King.

“We still have that bounced check from America he spoke of. But one of the things I embrace is when he talks about, ‘We must forever conduct ourselves on the high plane of dignity and decency.’ He speaks to the circumstances and conditions of the Black community, but he doesn’t leave you there. He speaks to the hope and the vision, rallying us around that vision so that we as a people can continue to move forward.”

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The preview of “The March” virtual reality experience at the DuSable Museum on Wednesday night drew local and national personalities to the South Side museum, including the children of the revered civil rights leader, Bernice and Martin Luther King III.

Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Also attending was Academy-, Emmy- and Tony Award-winning actress/producer Viola Davis, who narrated the project — and whose JuVee Productions company run with husband Julius Tennon served as its executive producer; and actress/LGBTQ activist Cynthia Nixon, whose father produced a radio documentary about the ’63 march, from which audio has been culled in the exhibit.

“What’s unique about this experience is that you’re in it, you’re not listening to it, you are in it. You’re looking in Dr. King’s eyes, and there is a point where you are listening to that speech for the very first time,” said Davis.

“Today, you see disenfranchisement, systemic racism, poverty, classism, people who are going without, and you wonder how we got here. I think it helps to be reminded that the spirit of King was love. We want people to take away from this, hope, that you can be the change you want to see, and the realization that things are bigger than yourself.”

The project, utilizing the most advanced virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), film production processes and machine-learning techniques to date available, represents the very first time the King estate has granted rights for the civil rights leader to be re-created in VR.

“The first exhibition of ‘The March’ at the DuSable Museum will allow visitors of all ages to powerfully witness and participate in history firsthand, like never before,” said TIME Editorial Director of Immersive Experiences Mia Tramz. “‘The March’ provides an educational and historically accurate experience through the use of the most ambitious and complex VR techniques to date, while also introducing the next generation of creators to immersive technology.”

The experiential exhibit, running through November at DuSable, features several levels of immersion, including spatial audio and a genre-pushing, 10-minute VR experience. “The March,” which will travel nationwide after the DuSable, presents the most realistic digital rendering of a human ever created, according to its award-winning creative team.

“Chicago is one of the most difficult cities that Dad and his team encountered. Chicago perhaps assumed that it was different from the South. But when he marched through Gage Park and Cicero, the racism was stronger than even in the South,” said Martin Luther King III.

“The significant movement that created the Fair Housing Act was a result of Chicago, so a lot of what my father represented and did came from this city. That’s why it’s so important to have this historic exhibit launch here in Chicago, where young people can continue to learn from it, and hopefully, find ways to realize their own dreams.”

The exhibit runs about 15 minutes in total, the first eight minutes spent in a dark room listening to enveloping audio of the Civil Rights Movement, from the words of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat in 1955 triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to those of Hank Thomas, one of the ’61 Freedom Fighters who traveled on buses through the South to protest segregation, to those of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, declaring “segregation forever.”

Exhibit-goers then enter another dark room to don virtual reality glasses and be transported. Right there before you are the thousands gathered on the National Mall on that afternoon of Aug. 28, 1963, listening to King, who suddenly comes into view.

King is as real as if he were standing next to you. And no matter how many times you’ve heard the iconic speech, Davis is right — this experience will make you feel as if you are hearing it the first time.

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To create “The March,” TIME Studios partnered with the V.A.L.I.S. studio, Academy Award-nominated immersive media studio RYOT, Academy Award-winning visual effects and immersive studio Digital Domain, and industry leading immersive storyteller Alton Glass of GRX Immersive Labs. The exhibit was designed by the award-winning Local Projects design studio.

“Chicago has always been an epicenter of civil rights leadership, and the DuSable Museum of African American History is proud to be the premier location for ‘The March,’ ” said DuSable President & CEO Perri Irmer. “To be able to experience Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington in this state-of-the-art virtual reality exhibit is an amazing opportunity, especially for our young people to connect with the civil rights movement and inspire our ongoing pursuit of social and racial justice that is still a hard fought battle – even today.”

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Actress/producer Viola Davis, in Chicago at the DuSable Museum for the exhibit’s Wednesday preview, narrated “The March,” and her JuVee Productions company — run with husband Julius Tennon — served as its executive producer.

Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

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