Melissa Joyner has worn a myriad of hats, but she has now added another layer to her repertoire, stepping into the role of a first-time virtual reality (VR) director.

According to information provided to AFROTECH™, the actor with screen credits including the FX network’s miniseries “Mrs. America” and Spectrum Originals TV series “The Bite” has reimagined the Southern Nigerian folktale “The Woman with Two Skins.” The original tale follows the story of Adiaha, a Spider’s daughter who is given two skins. One is her external skin, perceived as unpleasant to the eye and a way of protection, and the other is her inner self, later revealed as beautiful.

Joyner drew many questions from the original storyline that transformed it into a source of inspiration.

“I dove deep, searching for an African-American ‘fairytale’ and was graced by ‘The Woman with Two Skins’ from Nigeria. Immediately struck, first by the title, then by the premise,” Joyner told AFROTECH™ in an email interview. “We all have a second skin, an armor to protect and hide. The questions that popped up for me were: Why protect? When did we learn to hide? Who is Danger? Fear? What is Ugly? What is Self? Beauty? What if what’s hidden is our most beautiful? The folktale was an inspiration; therefore, I used it.”

 ‘Reimagined Volume III: Young Thang’

Joyner is now the proud writer and director of “Reimagined Volume III: Young Thang,” the third VR animation series created through Meta’s series Reimagined. According to the website, Reimagined is a female-led anthology series that introduces audiences to multiple storybooks by presenting mythology, fables, and folklore in a gender-inclusive experience. This series also partners with Very Cavaliere Productions, where Julie Cavaliere and Michaela Ternasky-Holland serve as co-directors.

Reimagining the African fable, the 16-minute film’s synopsis centers around Young Thang, who is a human encouraged by her spider guardians to change her appearance by wearing a second skin. The pressures to conform and disguise her appearance intensify and cause inner turmoil, ultimately impacting her broader community and guardian, according to information provided to AFROTECH™. Joyner adopted two-dimensional and three-dimensional techniques to signify “the complexities and difficulties inherent in conforming to one’s environment and the ensuing consequences.”

“‘Young Thang’ — also titled, ‘The Young Thang with Two Skins; or, she was not ugly, but beautiful, as she was born with two skins fable’ — is about beauty and belonging,” Joyner explained to AFROTECH™. “It’s all too present to feel the pressure to conform, to put on a metaphorical second skin cloaking your full identity. Young Thang immerses the audience in a world that is both real and magical.”

She added, “A blend of collage, animation, and soundscapes, it’s also a tribute. From Dunbar to Bearden and those in between, it draws inspiration from artists. It’s an ode to embracing what makes us unique and the bravery to celebrate all of it!”

Photo Credit: Meta

Joyner recognizes the motivation behind VR technology for artists and their audiences, stating, “VR grants an audience the feeling of immersion and an artist, creative freedom. We get to engage with Young Thang and The Community on a visceral and emotional level. Feeling as small and free as a spider ballooning on silk. Scale and Splendor.”

Photo Credit: Meta

While “Reimagined Volume III: Young Thang” is Joyner’s first time directing such a project, she is breaking barriers and offering other Black creators expansive opportunities to use technology and create more immersive experiences with virtual reality and artificial reality (VR/AR).

The animated film premiered during South by Southwest (SXSW) 2024 on March 10, 2024, and marked Joyner’s writing and directorial debut. The project will be showcased on a broader scale on June 7 through Meta Quest TV in observance of the holiday Juneteenth, according to information provided to AFROTECH™.