This week, the Utah Jazz’s players and coaches set aside 32 minutes to watch “Two Distant Strangers,” the Oscar-nominated short in part produced by Jazz All-Star Mike Conley.
It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. With Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict being announced midweek, the message of “Two Distant Strangers” struck a chord. The film tells the story of one Carter James (played by rapper and actor Joey Bada$$), who, on his way home to feed his dog, finds himself in a dangerous encounter with a white police officer (played by Andrew Howard). James then relives that day, “Groundhog Day”-style, as he tries to avoid his fate.
“From outside looking in, if you’re not African American, you immediately think of what the individual might have done wrong in those situations to give themselves, you know, give the police a reason to shoot,” Conley told SLAM magazine. “I think that’s huge to kind of show that, visually for the general public and people to [help them] understand what my uncles and my grandparents taught me — sometimes when you get pulled over, you just pray, man.”
The short drew positive reviews from his teammates and coaching staff this week.
“The movie itself was certainly impactful. It was tremendous, and in many respects it was it was haunting,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “And I would encourage everybody to see it.”
Snyder’s review was echoed by Tribune film critic Sean Means, who wrote that the film “sticks in the memory stronger than the other” live-action short film nominees.
Snyder also said that he supported his players’ taking action publicly to drive the conversation on social justice issues and racism in policing to a public audience.
“If there is ever an example of someone taking action to create change, to spur a conversation, this is it,” Snyder said. “It’s an unbelievably impactful example of that process. And I think it shows the opportunities that we have both in sport and in this case, art and filmmaking to continue to find common ground or where there is common ground to learn about one another and to have those conversations.
“It’s one of the great things about being on a team: that you do learn from each other. And a lot of those things happen organically. The amount of time that you’re around each other … it happens a lot and it happens organically. From everything from food, to upbringing, to where guys went to college, to how they play on the court,” Snyder continued. “It’s a neat part of being in a group and particularly a group that’s willing to interact and willing to share. I think it’s grounded in respect.”
Conley appreciated his teammates’ time to watch his film. “We had a lot of situations in that short film that are still going on, even as of last week. So I’m just thankful for the guys that sat there and watched it, (that we) have the conversation, ask questions and just keep the dialog going.”
Conley, who joined Kevin Durant, NBA agent Rich Kleiman, and even Sean “Diddy” Combs as producers on the project, knew how he’d be spending his Sunday night — watching the Oscars. “I’ll definitely be tuned in and watching,” he said.
Mike Conley-produced short “Two Distant Strangers” turning heads on Oscar night /p>