Aug 5, 2013
Fruitvale Station is based on the fatal shooting of an unarmed 22-year-old black man in Oakland, California in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009.
The movie opens with images many of us may remember: the actual shaky cellphone footage of Oscar Grant’s encounter with the Oakland transit police who had detained him and some of his friends after an altercation on the train. The director, Ryan Coogler, then cuts to the beginning of the previous day (December 31, 2008) to show us Oscar Grant’s last day. (He is played by The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan.)
We are presented with a complex and contradictory person. Fun, loving, compassionate and quick-tempered. We learn that Grant is the father of four-year-old Tatiana who he adores. We learn he was incarcerated for drug dealing. We also see him trying to turn his life around. He struggles to get and keep a legal job.
At one point when Grant is buying seafood for his mother’s birthday party, there is a white woman in the store. She is attempting to buy fish for her boyfriend’s fish fry. She is totally clueless. So Grant offers to help her. She is uncomfortable and moves slightly away from him. She sees a young black man in a hoodie and baggie pants and her initial reaction is fear. That changes quickly as Grant hands her his cellphone so his grandma can tell her everything she needs to know about frying fish.
Racial profiling goes on all the time. It can be subtle like the white woman in the store. Or it can be deadly as all the Oscar Grants and Trayvon Martins know. And everything in between.
When the movie arrives at the platform we are outraged by the behavior of the police, not the group of friends. In fact, the bystanders are so outraged by the police treatment of the young black men that many have pulled out their cellphones to record and document the incident. The cop that shot Grant in the back while face down on the platform and restrained by fellow cops, claims he thought it was his taser. Liar. He can’t tell the difference between a gun and a taser?!
In the movie one of Grant’s friends said it best: “They shot Oscar for no reason.”
Released just weeks after the not guilty verdict in Trayvon Martin’s murder trial, this must-see-movie raises similar issues of racism and racial profiling, of the history and experience of young black men in a still racist society.