on a true incident, 27-year-old writer and
director Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station is a
disturbing account of the last day of the life
of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a
22-year-old African American, shot and killed by
an officer of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)
at the Fruitvale subway station in Oakland,
California after returning celebrating New Years
Eve with his friends in 2009. At the beginning
of the film, actual footage is shown of the
shooting but we do not yet know anything about
the deceased man, his life and his dreams.
Winner of both the Gran Prix and Audience Awards
at Sundance and a first-film prize winner in the
Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes,
Fruitvale Station is a work of powerful
authenticity that allows us to connect more
closely with the man and the incident beyond the
information we may receive on TV news.
Conducting research and interviews with family
and friends, the events unfold like a thriller,
even though we know the inevitable outcome.
Although some scenes are added for dramatic
effect, there is no attempt to sugar coat
Grant's life and he is presented, warts and all,
as a hot-tempered ex-con, a drug dealer, an
unreliable employee, and an unfaithful partner.
Oscar is flawed like the rest of us but the
astute and moving performance by Michael B.
Jordan allows us to discover his humanity and
care about him. Working to get his life back, he
has received his GED despite having dropped out
of high school, and has given up selling drugs.
Coogler takes us through his day, which we know
will be his last. Although he was fired from his
job, he returns to the supermarket where he last
worked to ask his boss to reconsider. He gets
some food for his mother Wanda's (Octavia L.
Spencer) birthday party in the evening, picks up
a card for his sister who cannot come to the
party, sees his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal),
tells his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) that
he loves her, and helps a young woman who needs
advice on making a fish fry by having her talk
to his grandmother (Marjorie Shears).
After his mother's party, Oscar and Sophina and
their friends go to San Francisco to celebrate
the New Year. On their return, their celebration
is cut short by cruel and unnecessary police
violence caught on cell phone video which went
viral and led to protest demonstrations
throughout the Bay Area. Coogler's handling of
the scene does not hammer us with the
gruesomeness of the events but allows the
audience to act simply as a witness to the
crime. One of the most poignant scenes is when
Oscar's mother sees his body and cries "I told
him to get on the train... I didn't think they'd
hurt my baby."
Ultimately, the officer who did the shooting,
Johannes Mehserle, was convicted of involuntary
manslaughter by a jury in Los Angeles, and
served eleven months in prison after he claimed
that he intended to use his taser rather than
his pistol. Although there is little doubt that
the director is sympathetic to Oscar's story,
Fruitvale Station does not assault us with a
message, but on the eve of the profiling and
shooting of an unarmed black boy in Sanford,
Florida, the message is clear and does not need
to be spelled out.
While the incident may be different than that of
Trayvon Martin, it cannot stand apart from the
long history of racial injustice and the
inequality of the legal system in America. While
the film will not end racial tension, it may go
a long way towards opening people's eyes about
the reality of police misconduct. As Iranian
sociologist Ali Shariati said, "If you can't
eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone