Published on April 25, 2021
Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe’s Two Distant Strangers took home the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short Film on Sunday, and Free used his half of the acceptance speech to ask viewers not to be indifferent to Black pain in the face of police brutality.
“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,” Free said in the speech. “Which amounts to about 1,000 people a year. And those people happen to disproportionately be Black people.”
Then he invoked the words of American novelist and activist James Baldwin.
“James Baldwin once said, the most despicable thing a person can be is indifferent to other people’s pain,” he added. “So I just ask that you please not be indifferent. Please don’t be indifferent to our pain.”
Free’s Dolce & Gabbana suit was lined with the names of those killed by police brutality, according to Page Six.
In a horrific twist on Groundhog Day, Palm Springs, and other time-loop films, Two Distant Strangers follows actor-rapper Joey Bada$$ as an illustrator named Carter who wakes up, goes outside, and gets shot by a racist cop. He wakes up from the apparent nightmare, only to re-live the same day… and be shot again. And again. No matter how much he changes his behavior, he’s stopped for no good reason and killed.
While Oscar voters clearly embraced the film’s intentions, not everyone did. Two Distant Strangers was examined in a Los Angeles Times story about depictions of Black pain in film and television, which some critics have derided as “Black trauma porn.” The term is used to describe projects that portray the brutalization of Black people for entertainment.
The Times quoted Free as saying at a film panel: “There’s no way to avoid the fact that the reality of being Black is often painful and often traumatic.”
The article also explored Amazon’s Them, which follows a Black family that moves to a hostile white neighborhood in the 1950s. Creator Little Marvin has acknowledged that Them includes upsetting images. But he said they are included to show the savagery of racism.
MovieMaker spoke with Free on our podcast back in January, during which he explained that he wanted the film to dramatize the way he felt watching one report after another of unarmed Black people being murdered.
“After the George Floyd murder happened… I just kept seeing the news stories of this cycle of violence that we experienced, and you see the list of names continue to grow,” he said. “I started thinking, what does it feel like? How can I make people feel what I feel, watching this cycle repeat itself over and over again? And how do we break it? And I don’t necessarily know the answer to that.”
The film communicates “the helplessness that you feel when everything you try over and over and over again just continues not to work,” he says.
“And so that’s how I started to feel watching these stories happen, as you saw the Ahmaud Arbery story, followed by Breonna Taylor, and then George Floyd. You’re like, Jesus, man — can we just like get a breather? Can we just stop this cycle from happening?
He added: “When you feel like it can be you at any given moment, the repetition weighs on you. And so I tried to channel that into the film.”
Main Image: Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe giving their Oscars acceptance speech at the 93rd Academy Awards on ABC.