‘Two Distant Strangers’ explores topics of racial inequality


Source: IMDb

Zainab Talha, Scoop Editor

A couple months after the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020, Netflix acquired rights to the 32-minute short film “Two Distant Strangers”. The film follows a sci-fi approach to re-living the same day over and over, similar to “Groundhog Day”. It revolves around current issues such as police brutality and racism.

The movie centers around a cartoonist, Carter James, and his repeated attempts to get home to his dog. As James leaves for the walk to his apartment for the first time, he is confronted by a police officer who is suspicious of him over a “cigarette with no smell” and a roll of money from a  recent paycheck. The encounter ends with James dying in a chokehold, a clear parallel to the tragic George Floyd incident. After waking up to the same day, James is forced to figure out how to get home as a similar series of events plays out, each time leading to his imminent death.

The film took a direct stab at a very relevant and important issue. James was depicted as being a relatively relatable character; his body language, style of speech and personal experiences all being very ordinary. The film was meant to spark and continue the conversation on racial inequalities and mistreatment in America.

Writer and co-director Travon Free said in a Netflix interview when referring to what inspired him, “…you as a black American go through this cycle of emotions where you’re sad and upset, then you feel hopeless and then you work back to being hopeful…That’s when the thought occurred to me that it felt like living in the worst version of Groundhog Day ever.” The film does exactly this, giving viewers a renewed sense of hope each time James wakes up and then vanquishing that feeling at the end of each confrontation with the police officer. 

Although the film thoroughly explores the outward nature of each individual, it is too short for any meaningful character development to occur. James and the officer are both portrayed as being very one-sided people with minimal multi-dimensionality. For this reason, the film fails to put across as impactful a message as could have been.

Some viewers have also accused the movie of being “trauma porn”, or the exaggerated representation of a group’s pain and affliction for entertainment. Although this may be true to a certain extent, the movie does attempt to address an issue at hand, even if it may be in an overplayed way. 

Source: Revolt TV

The film won an Oscar for Best Live-Action Short Film in 2021, surpassing other impressive nominees in the process.

“Two Distant Strangers” has a hard hitting and gripping plot line that will be sure to leave viewers reflecting on the current state of racial equality and police brutality in America. 

As Free put it, “For black people, this is not something you don’t already know – this is a validation of your feelings. For white audiences, I hope it’s an opening of not just a conversation, but a pathway to empathy for our experience as black Americans. I can put you in [the protagonist’s] shoes for half an hour to try to understand what it’s like to be us for 24 hours [a day].”