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Two Distant Strangers

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This Oscar nominated live-action short film starring rapper/actor Joey Badass, is now available on Netflix and is pretty much worth seeing on synopsis alone.

Written and co-directed by Travon Free, “Two Distant Strangers” follows a Black man who finds himself re-living the day he is murdered by a white cop.  Yes, this is a “time loop” movie, but it’s definitely elevated into something more profound and devastatingly current.

Free and co-director Martin Desmond Roe do a great job of transforming this “Groundhog Day” trope into something that feels brand new. They do this in part by removing the comedy element all together. Sure, there are funny moments, but this is no comedy.

The more interesting elevation technique used here stems from Free’s script, which refuses to stand solely on the traumatic visuals of a Black man repeatedly murdered by a cop for the thirty-two-minute runtime. As the brutality is happening, Free adds an additional debate element, attempting to engage with a segment of audiences who still foolishly argues that the problem of police brutality can be resolved through “healthy dialogue”. Risking that this particular debate element could take away from the film’s gut-wrenching visuals, Free moves forward with this juggling act. And though at first it comes off a bit melodramatic, as the final sequence unfolds and the credits roll, I have to say that his juggling act should and will be deemed a tremendous success.     

There is a turn a particular character makes near the end which really doesn’t work, only because the story suddenly becomes fully sci-fi. This segment (which only lasts about twenty seconds) comes off as a tad confusing, as the total genre shift seems a bit too big for the filmmakers to handle; if only for a moment. But much like 2019’s “See You Yesterday” (a sci-fi/social justice hybrid) the level of importance a story like this holds, told in this particular manner, supersedes any flaws this movie has.  

Final Thought: It works on multiple levels. The first being the face value nightmare of imagining what a Black man must feel like being trapped in a continuous loop where the end result is always death by cop. But it’s the second level, which in my opinion is the most biting; the one that will resonate the deepest. The idea that we (the audience) are watching the same Black man die in very similar ways over and over again, is the most aggressive parallel to what it’s actually like to wake up to the news of a Black person being slaughtered by the police seemingly every day. While it is a different day and a different Black body being snuffed out, the story we are watching is the same. And for me, this was the point. This is the reason, why it should not only win an Academy Award, but more importantly be mandatory viewing for every person fighting to end police brutality.    

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Feeling Through

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Available to watch on YouTube.

Nominated for an Oscar in the Best Live Action Short category, “Feeling Through” is a film about a chance encounter between two men in the middle of the night and the conversation which ensues. What makes this action noteworthy is that one of the men is both deaf and blind.

Yes, this synopsis may invoke “The Blind Side” or “The Help”; movies where a privileged person helps someone who is seen as having a disadvantage, and by the end is transformed into an enlightened privileged person, simply by assisting the “less fortunate”. In other words, “Feeling Through” might sound like it would be the type of story which exploits someone with disabilities in order to make non-disabled audiences feel better about themselves. But thankfully it never stoops down to that level. This is mainly due to an authenticity brought forth by the actor who plays the deaf-blind man; an actual deaf-blind actor named Robert Tarango.  This aspect creates a realness which overtakes the film as the two leads begin to communicate via alternative means. These scenes help “Feeling Through” become more about the idea of entering someone else’s universe for only a brief moment, in order to understand their world a bit better.   

As far as the Oscar nomination is concerned, this story based on an event from writer/director Doug Roland’s past, is nothing you haven’t seen before. In fact, next to the other nominees, it’s pretty vanilla. So, the focus of this film should and will be on the casting of Tarango and be seen as an important step towards normalizing the casting of deaf and blind actors in roles that are written as deaf and/or blind.

Final Thought: Executive producer Marlee Matlin has stated in recent interviews that during civil rights movements, those with disabilities are often left out. And that’s why this film is so important. While I would have loved a more creative story, witnessing a deaf-blind actor play a deaf-blind character in a film that is nominated for an Academy Award supersedes anything else about this film. This is a start. This is a move in the right direction.

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