January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, but news headlines make us aware that trafficking and slavery are a social issue that is longstanding and widespread throughout the entire world, the U.S. included. In an effort to shine some light on human rights abuses, Oculus and Oculus VR for Good Creators Lab has launched the documentary called The Hidden.
The Hidden – Impact Through Awareness
The documentary’s collaborating creators are filmmaker Lindsay Branham and International Justice Mission. The film is made for 360-degree viewing and is free for all three Oculus headsets — Oculus Rift (PC), Oculus Go (standalone), and Gear VR (mobile).
The film The Hidden follows a family of nine in India who’ve been forced to become slaves to a debt scheme. To help release them from slavery at a rock quarry, a rescue mission unfolds. Lindsay Branham puts a tragic spotlight on their enslavement by revealing they were held “for 10 years — for the ludicrous sum of $70 USD.”
In the first world, $70 is an amount that many of us take for granted. Some of us may even have that amount in our wallet or purse right now or bundled up in a pocket somewhere in the laundry. To us, it can buy us a fancy new sweater, concert tickets, or a decadently delivered meal.
For those in impoverished countries and communities, $70 means debt, slave status, and the price tag for freedom. Branham, The Hidden’s filmmaker, hits us with some facts, saying that “Over 20 million people are trapped in bonded or forced labor.”
Social Issues Become Personal with VR
By design, virtual reality absorbs the senses with gripping content by influencing what viewers see, hear, and feel, making VR docs like The Hidden a deeply moving experience. Branham and IJM want to build a connection between viewers around the world and those that have had their autonomy and voice taken from them.
VR is the perfect medium to get viewers out of their social comfort zones and lean into compassion for victims we typically wouldn’t be face to face with in our daily lives. In The Hidden, the family’s suffering isn’t encased in a TV commercial that comes on and then goes away, viewers get digitally teleported to them, making it all the more personal.
“I knew the unique experience IJM could provide was going on a rescue operation with our partners to free a family from slavery,” says IJM’s Creative Director Vera Leung in an statement to Oculus.
“It was important to draw people closer to the issue through the experience of real families, dispelling the myth that slavery no longer exists. It was equally important for viewers to experience the hope and freedom that is possible.”
“You get to witness as a family becomes free,” says Branham, “and that is not easily forgotten. Shifts of consciousness start with new vision, and I hope this film can amend the myth that slavery does not exist by showing you that it does, and that, yes, it can also end.”
With over 20 million people living as slaves around the world, what can we do to help them? We can watch VR documentaries like The Hidden, donate to causes like International Justice Mission, and support trafficking policies at the federal level like the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.