Oscar Winner: Two Distant Strangers

Two Distant Strangers (Short, 2020)
Dirs: Trayvon Free & Martin Desmond Roe

Who are the strangers?
Carter (Joey Badass, or Bada$$), a young black man, and a police officer (Andrew Howard) that he keeps encountering.

Where is this set?
In modern-day New York City. Being set in a North American city is particularly important for the story as it focuses on an issue that’s acutely seen in the U.S. 

What is happening?
Carter realises there’s a time loop situation going on. Though his day starts well, waking up in bed with a beautiful woman, he’s motivated by the need to get back to his dog, so he’s forced to leave her apartment, where it rapidly goes downhill for him every time. 

Why do these men keep clashing?
One point I thought could’ve been better is the way it portrays Officer Merk. He’s uncompromisingly evil. It takes a few cycles before that’s made completely clear, but this is a vile, racist man, not just a bad police officer. He’s homicidal and misusing his authority and power. Really then, it says less about the complexity of systemic racism in the police force, or police brutality, and more about this one character who is employed as a police officer but is overarchingly racist and homicidal. 

How could it be better?
Clever in the way it uses the plot device of a timeloop to illustrate the seemingly endless issue of police killings of black people in the U.S. With the Oscars voted on at the same time as the case was being heard in court, there was no way this wasn’t going to win. It’s good, and maybe it does speak to the concerns in a more poignant way than I can appreciate from my life experience, but I think that making the police officer such an uncompromising villain, prevents the film from being the truly definitive commentary on these deep and complex issues that it would like to be.

When was this film released?
It was released in 2020, streamed on Netflix in early April 2021 just in time to boost it to not just a nomination but also a win at the Oscars a couple of weeks later.

Being made available on Netflix at just the right time and with a subject that was at the forefront of the news and people’s minds, really gave this the boost to win the Oscar. I think it’s very effective in what it says, though it won’t be the last to tackle this issue, and there may be even more powerful films yet to come. 

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