Now playing on Netflix, from the production company Six Feet Over—started by three savvy, creative African American men, all of whom are over 6 feet tall—is “Two Distant Strangers” nominated under the Short Film category for the 93rd Academy Awards.
This taut thriller that teeters on the border of a psychological, modern horror story, is one of 10 films that will advance in the Live Action Short Film category for the 93rd Academy Awards. The list can be seen at https://www.oscars.org/oscars/93rd-oscars-shortlists.
Six Feet Over’s executives include Travon Free (6-foot-8), Van Lathan (6-foot-5) and Nicholas Maye (6-foot-3). Imagine these three men, walking in uber-slow motion through the formerly guarded and closed gates of “white Hollywood.” For some ignorant, misguided, prejudiced and angry people that image might cause them great despair. But for me, it’s inspiring.
Hollywood isn’t an easy place to get anyone talking about your work—especially a short film. No disrespect to short filmmakers but industry movers-and-shakers are talking contracts, money and back-end points. So for “Two Distant Strangers” to be getting the type of attention from industry titans that it’s getting makes you lean in, to examine what makes “Two Distant Strangers” so unique and worthy of chatter.
During the horrific and emotional days after the 2020 murder of George Floyd (Rest in Power), when the world went on the streets shouting, protesting, holding up signs with broken hearts and pounding rage, many of us wanted to do more to help white people understand that this, sadly, isn’t new for our community. What’s new is that it was recorded.
What happened to Mr. Floyd, in part, is the inspiration for “Two Distant Strangers” which is essentially an African American man’s worst nightmare.
We begin with our protagonist Carter James (Joey Bada$$), a cartoonist who, after spending the night romantically with a young woman named Perri (Zaria), heads home to feed his pit bull when he gets stopped by a white police officer (Andrew Howard,).
What happens next is all-too-familiar: Carter, an innocent man just walking on the street, is brutally murdered by a police officer. A dream? A nightmare? Here’s the thing, every time Carter wakes up he realizes he can’t escape his death because he’s in a twisted, horrible, terrifying time-loop. What the viewer is left with besides rage is an understanding that this short film is what it feels like to be a non-white person in America. It’s that simple. When your white friends want you to explain what it feels like to be “you,” I strongly suggest that you send them the link for “Two Distant Strangers.” Whereas the film “Russian Dolls” (Netflix) is just a film, and a good one, what’s making people talk about “Two Distant Strangers” is that the film captured the feeling of this collective trauma. If you don’t feel the hopelessness and injustice that Carter experiences in this film, I’d suggest you check your pulse.
Here is what Travon Free and Nicholas Maye had to share about creating Six Feet Over with Van Lathan and what it was like making “Two Distant Strangers” come to life.
AmNews: Gentleman, wow and wow. “Two Distant Strangers” shocked me but in the best way. Let’s start at the beginning. I love the name of your production company. What’s Six Feet Over’s goal?
Nicholas Maye: Our aim is to create and produce bold, fresh, thought-provoking and revolutionary Black-centric content and usher in a new generation of creatives and filmmakers of color.
AmNews: Let’s tick that box with the powerful first [short] film “Two Distant Strangers.” I’m curious, what’s the impulse behind the name—Six Feet Over?
Maye: (laughing). Well, we are all over 6 feet tall. Travon [Free] is 6’8. Van [Lathan] is 6’5 and I’m 6’3.
AmNews: Congratulations on getting on Netflix
Travon Free: Thank you. I think for us, it’s trying to figure out how to carve a new lane, not just for Black people in Hollywood but Black men, especially given our perception, in the world and this country. Also, from my perspective how we can also rebrand and reshape our partnerships and our alliances with Black women in this world and in this industry, as well.
And given that we are a company with three very different partners. All of us bring something so different to the table but all of us have so many great skills and abilities and great connections to various people across this industry. Van’s ability to be prolific in the podcast and media space, Nicholas’ ability in the promotion space and his creativity in forming ideas on projects, and me, just being a writer and director and performer, it’s from what I experience, from a Black perspective, there’s just not a lot of any companies like us, that start with that kind of diversity. It allows us to not only build things of our own, but to also partner with other people who are more disadvantaged and don’t have opportunities and just need that one person to read their script or see their movie, and help them find their way in this business.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.