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."
The film, which was released on YouTube, follows a Black man who lives the same day over and over again and tries to change his behavior to survive a police interaction.
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.
Kao allowed the outlet to use her film, which was then promoted on their social media platforms. But about a year later, the filmmaker would revisit the matter with questions.
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."
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.
Meanwhile, others argued that she, as a non-Black person, should not have created her film in the first place.
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.
Some came to Kao's defense and urged others to focus on the alleged plagiarism.
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
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