*Warning: Minor spoilers ahead*
To be Black in America is not only to be in a "state of rage almost all the time," as James Baldwin once said, but it's also to be riddled with the responsibility of presenting yourself as a non-threat even in situations where you don't feel safe. The anxiety and frustration of that dichotomy is the premise of Netflix's Oscar-nominated short film, Two Distant Strangers. Starring "Devastated" rapper Joey Bada$$ as Carter, the film follows a young graphic designer who is trapped in an endless loop in which he ends up being killed by a police officer as he is trying to make his way home to his dog.
The film begins with Carter waking up in bed with a young woman named Perri (Zaria Simone). The two swap some morning-after banter before Carter decides to head home to feed his pup, who's been alone since the day before. Outside of Perri's loft, as Carter is taking a drag of his freshly lit cigarette, he accidentally bumps into another pedestrian, spilling coffee on the man's new shirt. They have a brief exchange in which Carter apologizes and the man continues on his way. Just as Carter is gathering himself to get back on his own journey, a police officer (played by Andrew Howard) pulls up and concludes that the young man's cigarette is more than a cigarette. He makes a pull for Carter's backpack, and the two end up in an altercation where the cop kneels on his neck, suffocating him, as a witness records the entire encounter. After his death, Carter wakes up again and is back in bed with Perri. The day starts all over again and the scenario replays.
What's particularly gripping about Two Distant Strangers is not just the obvious commentary about police brutality in America, but the the symbolism woven throughout the film. At the forefront is the glaring realization that—like many of the Black people who have been murdered at the hands of cops—Carter can't seem to walk away with his life. He tries fighting, he tries running away, he tries reasoning with the cop, yet he's murdered regardless. Each time the day restarts, he gets increasingly frustrated with the cycle.
The film also touches on the systemic nature of police brutality. At one point Carter even had a heart-to-heart with the officer, named Merk, where they both acknowledge each other's humanity. "I guess I've never actually spoken to one of you," Merk says during the conversation. Still, at the end of that day, he shoots Carter right in front of his house and the loop starts back again. That scene masterfully debunks the notion that what's lacking in this dynamic is just some understanding. The idea that if we all just had more conversations with Black people we'd have a better understanding is valid. However, we cannot ignore the fact that it's the structure on which this country functions that allows brutality on Black bodies, not just a lack of dialogue.
5 stars. Two Distant Strangers is a pristine, well thought out and expertly executed work of art that deserves all the acclaim it's getting.
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