‘Two Distant Strangers’ Plagiarism Claims Explained

Kasey Moore What's on Netflix Avatar


Two Distant Strangers – Picture: Netflix

Accusations of plagiarism surrounding the Oscar-winning Netflix short Two Distant Strangers have been leveled from the creator of a similar YouTube short from 2016. 

Two Distant Strangers is a Netflix short that Netflix picked up in March 2021 for release in April 2021 (shortly before the Oscars but after its initial Oscar nomination). It was originally released in November 2020. The short found on Netflix is directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe.

The accusations come via a TikTok from Cynthia Koa, who created a short back in December 2016 released on YouTube called Groundhog Day for a Black Man. She lays the case that the Netflix short may have stolen the concept because of a link between her original video and NowThis, an online publication with big footprints on social media.

After the events of George Floyd last summer, NowThis News reached out to Cynthia Kao, expressing their intent to share the video and “amplify it.” After agreeing, the video surfaced on NowThis’s Facebook page and other social pages.

The controversy comes that several months after NowThis posted the videos, Two Distant Strangers was released (which went onto win an Oscar for best short) but with the fact that NowThis is credited in the movie whereas Cynthia Kao is not, and therein lies the potential issue. It’s not known the full extent of NowThis’s involvement other than them being listed “in association with.”

At the time of writing, the TikTok has amassed 677,000 likes and 2.1 million views, whereas the original YouTube video has just surpassed 3.5 million views too.

Groundhog Day style movies are not new, and in this instance, the Netflix short also drew comparisons to a couple of other titles too. The Netflix short shares a similar plot to an episode of the rebooted The Twilight Zone with an episode called Replay released in 2019. It’s also similar to the 2019 movie The Obituary of Tunde Johnson.

Whether there’s a legal case here seems to be murky and mostly circumstantial. New Media Rights suggests that a claim would be hard without copyright in place.

We have reached out to NowThis for who provided a statement saying:

“‘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”

We will continue to update this post with any developments.

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Founder of What's on Netflix, Kasey has been tracking the comings and goings of the Netflix library for over a decade. Covering everything from new movies, series and games from around the world, Kasey is in charge of covering breaking news, covering all the new additions now available on Netflix and what's coming next.