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HBCU graduate Terrence J. produces an Oscar-winning short film

By Chance Meeting

Two Distant Strangers is a short film that expertly utilizes the Groundhog Day time-loop trope to evoke the tired cycle of racism that modern-day America seems to be stuck in, and the confusion and anguish that Black America feels like the victim of the needless cycle. 

The film was directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe from a script that Free wrote and was produced by a number of big-name people in the industry including Jesse Williams, Sean Combs, and Terrence J who is an alum of North Carolina A&T. Additionally Kevin Durant and Mike Conley Jr. were on board as executive producers.

Starring talented musician and rapper Joey Bada$$ (whose last album All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ was an emotional contemplation of the same themes in this short film), and Welsh actor Andrew Howard play two sides of the same coin. Joey Bada$$ plays Carter who, after waking up from a one-night stand is preoccupied with getting back home to his dog. When he attempts to make it home though, he is antagonized by an unprovoked NYPD officer played by Howard. The conflict ends in Carter’s death as he is choked out by the officer, his last words being “I can’t breathe,” just like that of George Floyd who was murdered in the same way by the now-convicted former officer Derek Chauvin.

Though after death, Carter wakes right back up in the bed of Perri, played by Zaria Simone, just as he had done before when he woke up that same morning. What follows is a time loop of altercations between Carter and the officer, and with each reset, to the day the hopelessness begins to weigh on Carter as he struggles to understand why this is happening to him and what he can do to amend it.

The film feels like a black man’s internal struggle of trying to understand the hostility his world feels against him and trying to figure out the ultimate answer to that struggle. Without giving away the ending the film shows us that this conflict is far from over, but that progress is not a conflict, but a conversation. Even though the cycle has yet to be broken, Carter is not, and he knows that the only thing he can do is try his best to survive and choose peace, hoping that he’ll achieve both. 

Rightfully so the film won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film and an African -American Film Critics Association award for Best Short Film.  The film ends with a list of black people who have lost their lives to unnecessary police violence and calls for people to continue the conversation in hopes that the needles cycle of conflict will end.