The Greatest Showman

Women in VR: Out With The Old And In With The New Inclusivity


At a time when male-dominated Hollywood is getting a plethora of bad press for its inappropriate treatment of women, the newly established virtual reality (VR) community is emerging as a place where women are welcomed and are gaining leadership positions.

While not perfectly balanced, females are thriving in entertainment VR more than other areas of Hollywood, where the traditional old-school boys club is par for the course. However, VR isn't perfect. Female executives in this new industry have unfortunately encountered harassment in the workplace, as evidenced by the Upload case, but the unsafe working conditions were quickly called out. When the woman, in that case, came forward, she received strong support within the VR community for speaking out.

In entertainment VR, we create immersive experiences and stories that need to resonate with a wider audience to be successful. While young male gamers are low hanging fruit, our racially diverse staff -- which includes a significant female contingent -- works together to craft experiences that will reach a mass audience.

My company SunnyBoy Entertainment creates the VR experiences for blockbusters like IT The Movie, The Greatest Showman and Annabelle--experiences which are designed to help drive mass audiences to the films.

Why are women thriving in VR?

VR is often talked about as being an empathy machine and there are a lot of great examples of ways VR experiences can evoke empathy. VR allows people to literally step into someone else's shoes and experience what it's like to be in a world that is foreign to them - like being a prisoner, a racial minority or a young lion.

VR is a powerful storytelling tool that can evoke depths of emotion and empathy because it's immersive. At the same time - and what is often not talked about - is that VR can also, if not steered in the right direction, be another digital technology that isolates us from each other. This danger is something Sheryl Turkle, an MIT psychologist has explored and suggested.

By surrendering our lives to technology, Turkle argued, “we're letting it take us places that we don't want to go." Where we used to be engaged, she argues, we are now distracted. Where there used to be conversation, there is now mere connection.

While I don't want to stereotype women - or men - it's fair to say that women have the ability to create environments that cultivate empathy a bit more naturally. I believe that the brilliant strength of women is we tend to be more collaborative, inclusive and aware of multiple points of view. We want others to be seen.

Recently, in development of one of our original projects, I am the consistent voice asking the team to remember emotion. What do we want audiences to feel? How can we get them to connect emotionally with our characters? My voice has been the compass that continues to point us back to the world and experience we're creating. Perhaps our team, with its female component, is better able to bring our audience in and help them connect with the characters than it would be if it were all male. And to help them connect in an authentic, natural, immersive, inspiring way.

What is the Future for Women in VR?

Women in VR will play a big role in steering this incredible new storytelling tool toward being the empathy machine that it can potentially be. This is not to say men will not also help in this endeavor, as they will and they are (I work with some of them!). My hope is that the rising voice and presence of women in VR will be the conscience of the industry, leading virtual reality to be the best art form it can be - one that brings us together rather than pushing us apart.

There are more women creators bringing their talents to story, tech and business development in this corner of emerging Hollywood. Their talents, voice, and experience must be celebrated and welcomed. The collaborative nature of the VR community - similar to that of tech startups - provides an environment where every voice should be welcomed because it's an asset to have a balanced team, with different perspectives. This serves both the creative product and business development.

A lot of the VR work we've done has been horror. While we create amazing horror VR, this genre can cause cognitive dissonance as a creator as it sometimes teeters on the line of taking advantage of the empathy side of VR. As we were developing It: Escape from Pennywise, I encouraged the team to think of how we can make this experience more of a personal journey for the user. In the end, we crafted the experience so that in order to escape, the viewer has to face their own fears. Spoiler alert, the path that gives you freedom is the one where you face that which scares you the most.

On another front, recently we released a 360 behind-the-scenes piece for the Hugh Jackman film The Greatest Showman. When this was first conceived, our Fox client - also a woman in VR - was pushing to get our 360 camera on the set so we could create the ultimate VIP backstage pass for audiences where viewers are able to completely immerse themselves in the on-set experience. She had the vision to see how great it would be if viewers were placed directly in the middle of the creation of the uplifting musical number, 'Come Alive.' This is a one of a kind piece really utilizing the headset experience for what it is best suited for - putting yourself in the unique position of being one of the cast on the set of a big motion picture.

In VR, we are creating immersive experiences and stories that resonate with a wide-ranging audience. Grasping our nascent industry's chance to move away from traditional gender stereotypes, we can embrace bringing in more voices that represent and mirror the reality of our expanding, diverse VR audience.

6 Min Read

All My Life I've Had To Fight

I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.

African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.

I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."

While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.

This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.

While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.

We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.

There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:

If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.

If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.

While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.

If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.

If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.

We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.

People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.