This piece was written prior to news about the idea been "stolen" from Cynthia Koa and 2016 short film "Groundhog Day."
A conversation for the culture, Two Distant Strangers, a 2021 Oscar-nominated short film, presents the raw reality of not only what it is like to be Black in America, but what it is like to be a Black man in America.
What I like about TDS is that in this thirty-two-minute film, we meet Carter James, played by hip hop artist Joey Bada$$, a well-off cartoonist who wakes up from what looks like a one-night stand situation. Carter’s intentions are to go home to his dog, Geter, and continue his everyday life.
Carter is presented as the average, or to some, above average, Black man in America. What makes his character stand out is that on his mission back home to Geter, he becomes a victim of police brutality and is killed by way of a choke hold. All this is reminiscent of how George Floyd was murdered in 2020. Carter’s death was due to him dropping his own money of his bag.
The scene shook me, he even said “I can’t breathe” as he struggled.
Carter, then, wakes up again in his earlier situation.
As the story progresses, Carter is forced to relive this nightmare of being killed by the same police officer, played by Andrew Howard, in ways that are like the real-life murders that are recurrent in Black communities. Carter was killed at least 100 times over the course of the film, each time being by way of a firearm, physical force, and many other forms.
This film deliberately asks two questions: Why do they keep killing us? Is there any real hope?
In the film, Officer Merk is the officer who murders Carter each time. Officer Merk serves as the antagonist here and plays a role in answering the latter of my earlier questions. The Black community holds hope at the center of its values when it comes to the liberation of our people, and that is even implied in the film when Carter said: “I realize now, it don’t matter what I say or what I do or how I try to do it, this dude just wanna… He just wanna kill me.” Following this, Peri, the leading female character, asks “So what now? You just let him keep killing you forever?” His response creates that hope that the Black community embodies; “Hell no. [I’m] smarter than him, faster than him. Shit, I probably got more money than he do. Definitely more handsome than he is. So I’mma figure something out. ‘Cause it don’t matter how long it takes, or how many times it takes. One way or another, I’m gettin’ home to my fucking dog.”
It seems like every day, there is another one of us being killed, whether accidentally or intentional, at the hands of a white police officer. So, why do they keep killing us? Or as Carter put it, “Why does this keep happening to me?”
The Black Community relives the same horrors of racism, murder, and hate crime everyday just as the audience experienced with Carter. TDS and other feature films have the power to address the very struggles of society for change to be started.
"TDS does this very well. I was moved. I was angry. I was determined to write this article to address what is happening to my people."
TDS is real. The movie’s title comes from Tupac’s 1998 “Changes.” The song is focused on how real change has not happened for improvement of the Black community. Th song addresses how we are treated by police, the government, and, of course, members of the white community: “I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere, unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin’ changes. Learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers.”
Here we are, in 2021, perpetuating the same hope that Tupac rapped about in ‘98. Two Distant Strangers leaves me with this: these stories need to be told. The culture needs to be aware. The hope that has been embedded in us by Tupac and those before him is still felt and very much alive today, but it takes more than a few people to demand change. The hope keeps us alive even when, like at the end of the film, it looks like our future is dim and the brutality will continue. Let’s be real, that’s just the way it is, but the Black community must keep fighting for justice, for change, so the oppressor can see us as equal, brothers even, instead of two distant strangers.