Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
This week a US jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. The 46-year-old man was murdered in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 after being arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. The world was shocked by video footage of Chauvin kneeling of Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds after he was handcuffed and lying face down.
Two Distant Strangers writer/co-director Travon Free said in an interview that it was the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor (fatally shot in her apartment by police in Kentucky on March 13, 2020), and Ahmaud Arbery (pursued by three white residents and fatally shot in Georgia on February 23, 2020) and the subsequent national and international protests that inspired the short film.
The Sci Fi drama follows a black cartoonist in New York named Carter James (rapper Joey Bada$$) leaving a woman’s apartment the morning after a first date and trying to make it home to his dog, Jeter. But Carter gets stuck in a time loop and “the worst Groundhog Day situation ever” when a white NYPD officer named Merk murders him repeatedly.
Right off the bat I have to say the acting here is superb. Joey Bada$$ as Carter is clever, witty, thoughtful, brave, and very sympathetic. His hope and anger and frustration is palpable and quite believable, and I found myself rooting for him from the word “go”. He also has wonderful chemistry with the lovely Zaria Simone as his date Perri, and the two do well to create the light-hearted romantic calm before the bloody storm. Bada$$’s antagonistic relationship with Merk, played with stone-faced stoicism by Andrew Howard, is tense, heated, and disturbing because of how believable it is. And that seems to be the point.
Also pretty disturbing is watching him get murdered over and over again, including a scene similar to the murder of George Floyd. Each time Carter dies he wakes up at the start of the day and has to go through it again, each time trying to find a way to survive and each time failing. And I could think of no better metaphor for two things: firstly, black people being killed no matter what they do when encountering the police; and secondly, the feeling of the public seeing and reading about another black person being murdered in America, and then another and then another. You really feel like you are stuck in a loop with no end and no way out.
The name of the film is from a line in the Tupac Shakur song “Changes” which touches on the treatment of black people by the police. That song samples from the Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s 1986 hit “The Way It Is” and the original song is played repeatedly throughout the film. It is a musical cue of resignation, a resignation that Carter has to actively fight against.
Moving from sound to sight, I must also mention the tight cinematography by Jessica Young and the exceptional use of imagery. There is a scene where the blood of Carter forms into the shape of the African continent that is stark, striking and poignant. The film also wears its inspirations on its sleeve with an image of George Floyd’s name on a rooftop in an overheard shot and at the end listing the names of black people who were killed. And just seeing those names, and some of the circumstances surrounding their deaths, was one of the most affecting aspects of the film.
Two Distant Strangers did remind me slightly of the Spike Lee-produced 2019 Sci Fi drama See You Yesterday. The earlier film saw two young black time travel inventors trying to use their invention to save the life of one of their older brothers after he is shot and killed by a police officer. But I think Two Distant Strangers does better with its time-repeating premise and getting its message across.
The film has already won an African American Film Critics Association Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Live Action Short Film. And the accolades are unsurprising as this is an outstanding production about a critical and topical issue, and a film that gets a rare perfect score from yours truly.
Editor Jules’s Score: 10 out of 10
For more genre content that explores the issue of racism you can check out my review of HBO series Lovecraft Country by clicking here or Horror Head Writer Sommer’s review of Amazon series Them by clicking here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville. And to stay on top of all Redmangoreviews articles you can like and follow us on Facebook here.