On Sunday night, the 93rd Academy Awards honored the harrowing journey of young Black man caught in a terrifying Groundhog Day as he is callously murdered by a white policeman over and over again. On a night that addressed racism, hate crimes and police brutality, the Oscar-winning short film Two Distant Strangers, from comedian/actor/writer Travon Free and director Martin Desmond Roe, perfectly embodied all three.
Set in New York, Black graphic designer Carter James (joey Bada$$) tries to get home to his dog, Jeter, the morning after a first date, only to find himself trapped in a heinous time loop in which he is repeatedly confronted in the street by a white NYPD officer, Officer Merk (Andrew Howard).
Merk wonders whether Carter is smoking a joint and wants to search his bag. Each encounter ends with Carter being killed.
During their acceptance speech, the two discussed the meaning and impact of the Netflix film as well as calling out police brutality. Free addressed the small Oscar audience, “Today the police will kill three people. And tomorrow the police will kill three people and the day after that, the police will kill three people because on average, the police in America every day kill three people. Which amounts to about 1,000 people a year. And those people happen to disproportionately be Black people.”
Backstage, the two spoke with journalists about their win. The “yellow-haired” writer/director was asked about reactions to the brutality of the film. He knew the short would be difficult to watch. “I especially knew it would be a film that would be difficult for people to watch, difficult for people to, you know, politically even engage with.” He added, “I think it’s amazing to think that we could be standing here today, holding Oscars for a film about police brutality. I think that’s incredible.”
The two then spoke about the inspiration for making a film during a pandemic: “I had an idea while we were out protesting and marching that was spurred on by how I was feeling about what I was seeing,” Free told the audience. “How I was feeling about internalizing, you know, the pain of seeing so many black people be killed at the hands of the police, and thinking about the emotional, you know, roller coaster you go on, every time you hear a new name and a new story, see the video.”
He added, “I told Martin about the idea and, you know, I asked him if this was something that we could make and do right now, which was crazy, the pandemic, and we were trying to make a short film, which how do you even go about doing that in a regular, or a nonpandemic time period. And to do it then at the time seemed crazy, but we kind of defied that all the way to this stage here.”
When asked about their future plans, Martin Desmond Roe replied, “He can’t hide. He’s so tall. The yellow hair.”
Two Distant Strangers is now streaming on Netflix.