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A virtual reality experience just won an Oscar for the first time

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Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s project explores the experience of Mexican refugees

LACMA’s logo for VR installation Carne y Area. Neil Kellerhouse

The Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today that a special Oscar statuette will be presented to already two-time Oscar-winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Carne y Arena (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible).

The Academy’s board of governors voted to present the special award to Iñárritu at the Governors Awards on Nov. 11 for his virtual really installation, which is currently housed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s the first Academy Award presented to a work in the medium of virtual reality, one of less than two dozen special Oscars to ever be awarded, and the first to be given out since Toy Story, in 1995.

Carne y Arena combines physical spaces — a sand-covered floor, a spare and cold waiting room, a multi-screen video installation — with the Oculus Rift. Imagery both representational and abstract guide the viewer through an experience designed after the paths of global immigrants and refugees.

Carne y Arena “opened for us new doors of cinematic perception,” said John Bailey, the Academy’s president, in a press release. “More than even a creative breakthrough in the still emerging art form of virtual reality, it viscerally connects us to the hot-button political and social realities of the U.S.-Mexico border.”

Iñárritu is best known for directing Birdman and The Revenant, which were awarded seven Oscars between them, including a Best Director award for each.