In a Tiktok video that went viral over the weekend, an Asian American filmmaker explains the connections between her original work and Netflix’s “Two Distant Strangers,” which won the Best Live Action Short Film in last week’s Academy Awards.
Filmmaker, producer and comedian Cynthia Kao shared in the video how NowThis News, a social media-focused news outlet, approached her last year with an interest in her 2016 short film “Groundhog Day for a Black Man.”
In an email sent on May 28, 2020 — just days after the death of George Floyd — a producer with NowThis told Kao that they found her short “very powerful” and asked for permission to use it in a video report.
On April 9, 2020, Netflix released “Two Distant Strangers,” which, according to Kao, follows a Black man “living the same day over and over again while trying to survive a police interaction.” The short credits “in association” with NowThis, but it is not clear as to what extent the news outlet was involved, according to What’s on Netflix.
“This hit me when I saw in [the] opening credits, ‘In Association With NowThis,” Kao says in her TikTok video. “This past Sunday, they just won an Oscar for that short, ‘Two Distant Strangers.’
“And I don’t know what happened. I’m not making any assumptions.”
— @NeverRunOutofCoffee (@Kumong_bato) April 30, 2021
Kao has since made her TikTok account private, but social media users have reposted her video on Twitter, drawing mixed reactions.
Some accused both NowThis and Netflix of plagiarism and urged Kao to file a suit.
So gross how are @nowthisnews taking credit for something that’s not theirs??? Make it make sense
— ً (@fclklore) April 30, 2021
Law. Suit. Run those coins.
— Gorgon Stare (@yoshxl) May 1, 2021
What the fuck, who is THIS stupid in this day and age? Sue them. Sue them out of existence.
— Ish (@IshmaelStarfor) May 1, 2021
Meanwhile, others argued that she, as a non-Black person, should not have created her film in the first place.
why was you trying to profit off black trauma in the first place……………………… pic.twitter.com/7BO7lX8YSM
— xoxo, saturn (@sadbabybrigade) May 1, 2021
Why would you want to write something like this anyways? Yea sure it’s messed up they toon your “art” but this is what black ppl are talking about non black profiting off of our TRAUMA that we’re tired of living through any ways! Wtf
— AvanteMarie (@avantemarie) May 1, 2021
Why in the name of God – would you write that story to begin with? Classic non-Blacks profiting off of Black people’s pain.
— Alicia K. Harris (@indiiiequeen) May 1, 2021
Still, some believe both sides are in the wrong.
“This is so shady that she was sandbagged like this by these corporations. And so typical of Hollywood to award yet another film about black trauma with an Oscar. Also, in my humble Black man opinion, she shouldn’t have made a movie about this topic in the first place,” one user wrote.
This is very messy. Why would she direct this, but also why did NowThis steal from her?
— Valerie Complex (@ValerieComplex) May 1, 2021
I want both of these films to equally gtfoh.
— free (@troytrilla) May 1, 2021
The way i don’t give a damn cause both of these films look traumatic and miss the whole point.
— Oh My (@WordsOfMouth18) May 1, 2021
Some came to Kao’s defense and urged others to focus on the alleged plagiarism.
Some of y’all are missing the whole point; her art was stolen from her– point blank. She should be given credit and compensation.
— Just Kiss Already! (@JessTraxler) May 1, 2021
Just say y’all want complete and total artistic segregation and move on. As though nobody can make anything unless they’re the exact same color gender religion and sexual orientation of the subject. There’s a difference between representation and a monopoly.
— Moriarty (@DexterGrayTHC) May 1, 2021
This is wrong. Not only did they steal her idea, she’s being dragged for being Asian and making a short film about the cycle of deadly police violence Black people face on a regular basis.
Can people calm down for a second & focus? She’s not the enemy and projection isn’t fact.
— Day One Glitch (@BBF8droid) May 1, 2021
In a statement to What’s on Netflix, NowThis said that “Two Distant Strangers” was independently conceived and had been in final production prior to its involvement.
“‘Two Distant Strangers’ was independently conceived and in final production for months before NowThis became involved in the film so any connection is out of the question. NowThis is committed to highlighting injustices including racism and police brutality. It’s unfortunate that the repeated nature of these experiences are a reality for Black Americans,” the outlet said.
NextShark has reached out to Netflix and Kao for further comment and will update this article accordingly.
Featured Image Screenshot via @cynthiakao