Oscar Julius Grant III was not perfect. He was an ex-convict. He was a pathological liar. He was a drug dealer. And, he had a bad temper. But the events that happened on January 1, 2009 not only were unwarranted, they were inexcusable.
In Fruitvale Station, which screened last month during the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) in Miami, writer/director and 2011 ABFF/HBO Short Film Competition winner Ryan Coogler tells the true story of the last day of Oscar’s life.
Oscar (played by Michael B. Jordan) was not perfect, but he was a great father. He loved his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal), and his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer). Oscar also was a caring person who helped a random stranger, Katie (Ahna O’Reilly) in the supermarket the day before he died, offering her his grandmother’s recipe for fried fish.
Coogler in his feature-length writer and directorial debut shows that Oscar was making an honest attempt to follow a better path and become the man he needed to be.
So often we see senseless murders and tend to look above and ask, “Why?” Why would God take a person who has changed for the better, right when he has made that change for the better? Many Christians would say that God wanted to make sure Oscar made it to heaven, and invited him up.
Cinematically, Fruitvale Station is about Oscar’s journey to redemption, as well as the obvious hate crime that resulted in his death. The good deeds Oscar did the day before he died the morning of Jan. 1 made his death all the more bittersweet, as Coogler began his film with actual footage of Oscar’s shooting by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Police Officer Ingram (played in the film by Chad Michael Murray), who claimed to be reaching for his taser when he “accidentally” shot Oscar in the lung.
Oscar succumbed to his gunshot wound a few hours later that morning.
Jordan has grown as an actor right before the eyes of the American viewing public. He started off as baby-faced Wallace on HBO’s The Wire. He has made numerous appearances in shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, All My Children, Burn
Notice and Friday Night Lights. Now he has stepped into his own as a movie star with films such as Chronicle and Fruitvale.
Spencer also gives a rousing performance as Oscar’s mom Wanda, a God-fearing woman who prays for her son’s survival up until the very last minute of his life. What could be misconstrued about this particular plot point is that Wanda rallies everyone to pray for Oscar, yet he dies. This can be misinterpreted as God didn’t hear Wanda’s prayer or doesn’t exist, which doesn’t seem Coogler’s intent.
That said, Fruitvale’s unflinching look at racism among the Bay Area police is unmistakable. Right before Oscar died, he and his friends had a fight with a white ex-convict and that man’s friends on a train car. The BART police were called, who dragged all of the black males off the train car but none of the white fighters.
Fruitvale’s release is poignant and timely, to say the least. Its true story mirrors the current events surrounding the trial of George Zimmerman, in which on the basis of self-defense he was found not guilty of charges related to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Americans across the country have sounded off on this memorable case, some showcasing their ignorance and bias against African-Americans. In an uncanny resemblance to the racial bias themes surrounding the killing of Trayvon, the BART police proceeded to mercilessly harass the unarmed black males right in front of a train car full of people with camera phones; hence the footage in the beginning of the film.
What’s most troubling about Fruitvale is not just that an innocent man trying to get his life in order had that life cut too short. It’s also about racial profiling and violence on behalf of those who have sworn an oath to protect the citizens of their municipality. Who will protect the citizens from them?
Coogler’s apparent intention was for Fruitvale Station to open a dialogue about these crimes that go barely punished by the law that’s supposed to protect us. It’s now entered into the ongoing conversation about race relations and gun control polices in America. Let the dialogue continue.