Brie Larson and Van Jones team up to tackle sexual harassment in new VR series

Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson is teaming up with CNN’s Van Jones to bring The Messy Truth to life with a virtual reality experience urging people to take an empathetic approach to understand opposing viewpoints and life experiences, instead of fueling the fight to further divide the nation.

In a conversation with Yahoo Entertainment, the political commentator talked about joining forces with director Elijah Allan-Blitz four years ago to take the discussion series The Messy Truth and bestselling book Behind the Messy Truth to the forefront of a new media experience. With this, The Messy Truth VR Experience was born.

“Is there some way we can use technology, not to divide us, but to bring us together? Can the technology be used in a better way so we can understand each other?” Jones recalls thinking. “And Elijah said, ‘Yeah, technology can do that.’”

With prior experience in VR, Allan-Blitz explains the technology “could just change the world” as it allows the consumer to put on a headset that transports them to a scenario that the mind believes is real. The director, along with Jones and Larson, call it an “empathy machine” for this reason. Allan-Blitz and Jones saw the impact of VR after working with actor Winston Duke on an episode where he played a Black father involved in a traffic stop by police with his son in the car, where the viewer was put in the position of the child.

The under five-minute clip was an effective conversation starter after being previewed at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The episode has since won an Emmy Award in 2019 for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media.

“Getting the Emmy nomination was a trip because we’re so scrappy,” Jones explains, adding that the production wasn’t backed by big money, but instead by those who believed in it. “For it to get that kind of acknowledgment is just amazing.”

The team is now hoping to keep the momentum going with the inclusion of Larson in the series’s second episode produced by Verizon Media’s award-winning immersive content studio RYOT (Verizon Media is also the parent company of Yahoo). “The team at RYOT stepped up,” Allan-Blitz says. “They see the potential and they see the heart of what we’re trying to do.”

Allan-Blitz explains that Larson steered him in the direction of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United to obtain real stories of workplace sexual harassment within an industry that would be most relatable and digestible to viewers. Regardless of the specific issue that Larson would tackle, however, the actress explains that her involvement in the project was something she never second-guessed. Instead, she felt that bringing social activism to her work was vital.

“When Elijah and I first spoke, it was, I think our first ever conversation was about empathy. And I realized that I could take what I was already doing a step further with this project,” she explains. “I make movies to be an empathy machine. I believe that when you're sitting in a theater, it doesn't matter how many friends or family members you're with, you are alone and you become one with whoever it is you’re watching and I've found it to be a true marker when films are getting watched, when they’re successful, when they’re being talked about.”

Known best for her roles in Room and as Captain Marvel, Larson uses the platform that she has been given through acting to speak on issues that she is passionate about, to shed light on new perspectives with necessary conversations and believes in using her voice for both social and political causes.

“I just never really believed that I was just supposed to shut up and act,” she says. “If you were having the conversations that I’m having, you would see things differently. And I’m fully aware that because of the privilege that I have, I can get a lot of people on the phone. I can talk to a lot of different activists. I can DM someone and say, ‘Hey, can you talk to me about this?’ And so I’ve been educated in a way that I want to share.”

The goal of this particular project and this specific use of media, says Jones, is not to tell someone how to feel or think, or to sensationalize an event, but instead to allow an individual to experience a scenario themselves in order to reveal an authentic and empathetic response.

“The truth has a way of uniting people,” Jones says.

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