An Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate and current University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign senior is part of a team producing a short virtual reality film that re-enacts a fatal routine traffic stop from the perspectives of the police officer, the African-American victim, and his grieving mother.
Adia Ivey, 22, said during a recent interview that the film’s working title is “The Drive,” and it’s the first production to come out of YouMatter Studios — a media venture founded by Ivey’s friend and fellow U of I student, Jewel Ifeguni, 21, of Naperville.
The two women said they’re hoping to release the 10-minute film by next February, which is Black History Month.
“I discovered that virtual reality is a really good tool for empathy because you can put people in someone else’s shoes,” Ifeguni said. “I really want this to be a way of healing communities by starting constructive conversations.”
YouMatter Studios began as a gaming company that Ifeguni founded out of frustration with the lack of minority and female representation in the gaming industry.
“I was frustrated that my younger sister couldn’t see herself in games,” Ifeguni said. “It was hard to find avatars that looked like her, so I wanted to put my efforts into infiltrating the media.”
Ivey said she was drawn to Ifeguni’s burgeoning company because it addressed issues that were important to her.
“A lot of the productions I’ve worked on in the past were socially conscious,” Ivey said. “They were about creating more complex representation for marginalized voices. So I was excited when I saw a previous project that Jewel was working on.”
That project — the one that preceded “The Drive” — was Ifeguni’s “We Will Slay,” a short production that was part film, part music video. The title originated from Beyonce.
“‘We will slay’ means that you’re a boss, you’re in control of your dreams and can accomplish anything you want to,” Ifeguni said. “The project centered on the stories of four young women overcoming stereotypes and realizing their dreams.”
Ifeguni said she wrote the project’s script, as well as produced and directed the film.
Ivey said that for their most current project, she and her colleagues have made it a point to reach out to local police officers and police chiefs in Champaign and Urbana in order to accurately represent the perspective of law enforcement.
“That’s important information,” she said. “We’re hoping they’ll be open to us.”
The film will also feature the perspective of a black parent giving her child the “Talk” — the conversation, both dreaded and necessary, that black parents feel they must have with their children, especially black boys, about what to do in an encounter with the police.
Ifeguni said she was inspired to make a film based on a traffic stop after considering the experience of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old African-American woman from the Chicago area who was improperly arrested by a Texas state trooper in 2015. Bland was found hanging in a Texas jail cell days later.
“That was the first time I realized it could be me, too,” said Ifeguni.
Ivey and Ifeguni said the YouMatter Studios team is growing quickly. They have about 15 people working on the film project. They’re currently raising funds through a GoFundMe account to purchase additional film equipment.
Ivey plans to conduct panel facilities, workshops and other forms of outreach once the film is finished. She’s a big fan of Kartemquin Films — the production company that put out the 10-part Starz docuseries America to Me, which explores the racial equity gap at her alma mater.
“I felt like the black representation in the film was kind of limited, which was interesting, but I’m glad it addressed the achievement gap,” Ivey said. “Not that I expected things to get better, but the fact that those conditions are still being perpetuated is frustrating. My young sister is still at OPRF and she has her own frustrations.”
As Kartemquin is trying to facilitate a national narrative around the themes and issues in America to Me, long after the series has finished airing, so will Ivey, Ifeguni and their team try to keep the “The Drive” alive well after it is completed, the women said.
“It’s important to have these conversations,” Ivey said. “We don’t want [the societal issues the film highlights] to just go away once they’re off the screen.”
To learn more about YouMatter Studios, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To give to the film project, visit gofundme.com/youmatterstudios.