This Friday July 12th in New York City, as well as in Los Angeles, San Francisco and of course, Oakland, is the premiere Ryan Coogler’s award-winning directorial feature film debut Fruitvale Station, a dramatized account of the last day of 22-year old Oscar Grant III’s life before he was fatally shot in the back by an Oakland, California police officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009. Grant’s death sparked ongoing nationwide public protests and debates on police brutality and their disregard of life in the Black community.
Although I have not yet seen the film, peers and friends alike that were at Sundance Film Festival screenings, where the film made its World Premiere and won both that Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize Award, have praised the film for its deeply emotional and attentive story. Grant as played by actor Michael B. Jordan, best known for his television work on ‘The Wire’ and ‘Friday Night Lights,’ and gaining attention for his supporting roles in last year’s Tuskegee Airmen World War II film Red Tails and the indie film hit Chronicle, is a young Black man working to correct his past wrongs of selling drugs and being inattentive toward his mother (played by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer), 4-year old daughter, and girlfriend; he is an unsure man at the crossroads of working to discover who he can become and wants to be. As Jordan was raised in the unforgiving and violent city of Newark, NJ and even spent a month living in Oakland before shooting the film, many have said that his honest performance, as well as the deft direction and screenplay from Coogler and inevitable conclusion of the film, left barely a dry eye at festival screenings.
There do also exist parallels that connect Grant’s tragic story first to those in major urban cities and continuously to the greater society. Here in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police chief Ray Kelly enthusiastically advocate ‘stop and frisk’ techniques as a way of preventing violent crime, but a disproportionate amount of those stopped by police are Black men and women with new found statistics revealing that 90% of them are totally innocent. Yet for years now law enforcement contends that these methods are not racist or conflict-ridden. The second parallel is how art and everyday society are continually affected by consumer digital video, primarily from cell phones, revealing what most of us want to believe as the truth. As Zeba Blay remarks in her January 2013 Shadow And Act review of Fruitvale, “The hundreds of videos from that night, thirty second snippets, three-minute clips, shaky images that still so easily can be pulled up on any internet search, show us from numerous angles the “truth” of the incident. But even that truth was debated and doubted in courtrooms after Grant’s death.” The film makes use of these perspectives, telling different sides of the story in trying to piece together what really happened.
Co-produced by Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker, Fruitvale Station also stars the underrated Melonie Diaz (the breakout star of 2002’s Raising Victor Vargas) as Oscar Grant’s girlfriend Sophina, as well as Chad Michael Murray (TV’s One Tree Hill), and Kevin Durand (Real Steel, 2011) as the police officer Oscar is confronted by on his fatal night. In NYC the film will be playing at the Angelika Film Center beginning this Friday. You can go to the film’s website to see where it is playing in Los Angeles and the Bay area. Additionally, the Fruitvale film website shows where it will be playing when it expands into other cities like Atlanta on July 19th and onward.
Here is the official movie poster.