In the world of film we tend, as a culture and as an audience, to deal with subject matter that is derived from reality and push it through a filter of fantasy, creating characters that play the villains and heroes we need to voice our experience of life. Even in terms of political events in narrative film, more often than not, we create something ‘in light’ of something else. Fruitvale Station
not only avoids this tendency, but it also reveals exactly how powerful it can be to simply narrate as closely as possible to a real life story without delving into a documentary form. The result is a strikingly sincere and brave piece of cinema.
This fresh perspective on the heartbreaking story of Oscar Grant, publicly murdered by BART transit police on the morning of January 1st, 2009, is tackled by a filmmaker making his first narrative feature, Ryan Coogler. Born the same year as Oscar Grant, it is evident that there is something very personal in his decision to tackle such a huge subject in his first film. The result of this fresh perspective from a director is nothing short of riveting, as he is able to give the audience a beautifully honorable portrait of the man Oscar Grant was. The chronicle of Grant’s last living day is a piece of film that shares, in the deepest sense of the word, the heart and struggle of a sincere young man to express and nurture love, for his friends, family, and life.
What is so striking about this work is the soft hand with which it is rendered, where the construction of what life was like is informed by the family accounts, and only minimal embellishment occurs to push the story forward. Of particular importance is a scene which compares Oscar and his girlfriend to a white man and his pregnant wife, while both of the ladies use a bathroom in San Francisco. The two minutes in this scene suggest the imbalance in thinking in terms of black and white, and serve to balance audiences to the reality of life: everyone is capable of committing a crime on some level, others are simply punished unjustly. The theme is introduced just in time for the inevitable end, where this very thing is completely off balance.
Fruitvale Station an honorable piece of cinema, one which does not intend to heavily manipulate the audience and serves the subject with much respect. The Academy Award buzz for this film is deserved, not only because of its gentle touch, but also because of its absolute relevance in our times. It’s difficult to watch the story unfold and not imagine the story of Trayvon Martin, and for that reason, you will be pushed to come to terms with the harsh reality that this story may be the story of one man, but it is truly the story of generations of young men in our country.
Those men are black by majority, they have black names and are burdened with a black struggle for no good reason. Rather than taking on the whole subject, while watching Fruitvale Station, we see a vignette of a larger cultural story. The details of that story are not unique to the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant. The details that follow the shooting are presented on the screen for all to see, and they are also not unique. A group of young men are detained by police after defending their friend in a fight. The color of their skin assigns a verdict even when there is no violence coming from them to push the police, and after killing Oscar Grant, the white police officer responsible serves 11 months of a 2 year sentence. While this film won’t directly ask you to call it what it is, it will be very difficult to sit in that theater and not acknowledge the reality yourself. The permissible execution of the black man is alive and well today. We still have done nothing to stop it and protect our citizens, our brothers, our men.