In his acceptance speech, Free exclaimed that “God is good,” before launching into a statement on policing in America. “Today, the police will kill three people, and tomorrow, the police will kill three people—and the day after that, police will kill three people,” he said, “because on average, the police in America everyday kill three people, which amounts to about 1,000 people per year.”
Noting that “those people happen to disproportionately be Black people,” he then went on to reference iconic writer James Baldwin, who once said, “The most despicable thing a person can be is indifferent to other peoples’ pain.”
“So, I just ask that you please not be indifferent,” Free pleaded, in closing. “Please don’t be indifferent to our pain.”
Roe followed this up by thanking the actors (Joey Bada$$, Andrew Howard, Zaria), and A-list producers (including Lawrence Bender and Sean Combs) involved with the short. “We’d like to thank Netflix for giving our short film the chance to be seen by the world,” he said. “We’d like to thank the Academy for championing the art of the short film.”
Backstage at the Oscars, Free expanded on the comments he made on stage. “We knew [Two Distant Strangers] would be a film that would be different for people to watch and to politically engage with….To be holding these [Oscars] for a movie as potent and as serious as this film is, from the Academy, I think is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s amazing that we could be here today holding Oscars for a film about police brutality. It’s incredible. I had an idea while we were out protesting and marching …how I was internalizing the pain of seeing so many Black people killed by the police… this feels like living the worst version of Groundhog Day.”
Scripted by Free, Two Distant Strangers follows Carter (Joey Bada$$), a Black cartoonist who looks to get back home to his dog, after spending the night with a new romantic interest. As the character steps outside, he is brutally murdered by the police, for no reason at all—and subsequently, he finds himself stuck in a time loop, where he’s forced to relive this moment, over and over again. While the short began its Oscar campaign without a major distributor, it was picked up by Netflix in March.
The short beat out Oscar Isaac-starrer The Letter Room (from Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan), The Present (from Farah Nabulsi), White Eye (from Tomer Sushan and Shira Hochman) and Feeling Through (from Doug Roland and Sue Ruzenski).
Check out the full acceptance speeches of Free and Roe above. Their appearance backstage can be viewed below.