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2019 Excellence in Immersive Storytelling finalist

Remembering Emmett Till: The Legacy of a Lynching

About the Project

This project includes a VR documentary and Interactive article from the New York Times’ Immersive Storytelling team, on the cultural reckoning over the memory of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, and the larger debate on public memory of America’s history of racial violence. In order to see the complete project, please use the URLs included to access the 360-video documentary, the interactive article, and a short article from the “Times Insider” which gives more background about why we did this project and how we accomplished it.

A historical marker in Mississippi, honoring Emmett Till, a 14 year old who was lynched and thrown into a river in 1955, has been repeatedly vandalized with bullets over the last few years in the very towns where he was killed. We reported and produced this project in order to look more deeply at how the local Mississippi community felt about Emmett Till and how he is remembered in the Mississippi Delta region. What we found was that in recent years local residents have been fighting to preserve Emmett’s legacy in the physical spaces connected to his story, and that this is a part of an ongoing cultural debate on how to remember America’s history of racial violence.

To examine Emmett Till’s legacy in these Mississippi towns, we employed a multimedia approach — combining present-day on-the-ground reporting with archival research, and overlaying 360-degree video with images from the 1955 case, for an interactive article; and also producing a virtual reality documentary. In particular, we combined archival black and white photography with present day 360 video to highlight how this history is at risk of being erased. The use of 360 video/VR was significant in establishing a sense of the physical place, as a significant part of the story was about how the state of the physical structures reveals how the local community feels about memorializing Emmett and confronting the past.

We designed this project so that the video and article experiences would be complementary but also thematically continuous. When you watch the 360 video, you will hear narration from correspondent Audra D.S. Burch communicating the reporting and questions of the article, but when you read the article, you also see the essence of the immersive video, with autoplaying 360 panoramic stills and archival photos fading on and off on the article page.

The VR documentary is best viewed on the NYTVR app within the Oculus Go or Google Daydream, in which the viewer is completely immersed. The dimensions and pacing are mapped to the headset experience, as people need more time to look around when in a headset. However, we realize that most people will watch it as a 360 video on a computer, and hope that being able to move around the space using a touchpad or computer mouse will give viewers an idea of the immersive project.