Tears are streaming down my face - I keep taking off my glasses so I can wipe them clean to see. The movie Fruitvale Station based on a true event begins and ends with the shooting of 22 year old Oscar Grant celebrating New Year’s Eve on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Fruitvale Station stop in Oakland, California during the first minutes of the New Year in 2009.
Director Ryan Coogler shows us the actual footage of the tension, confusion and ultimate police homicide that occurred in the early hours of a new year. We hear a shot and the camera fades out... and we are brought into the daylight back in time - almost 24 hours - and meet the young man whose tragic fate we already have witnessed. Michael B. Jordan gives an incredibly authentic performance as Oscar Grant in all his complexity. We see the human being behind the symbol of another victim of police brutality as we enter into his life, and that makes the tragedy of his early murder at the hands of those who are given the job to protect us - the LAW - even more palpable and wrenching.
Oscar can be sweet, tough, loving, evasive, generous, hot-tempered, excitable, and at this point in time wanting to change his life after a short stint in San Quentin for drug dealing. He is a sympathetic person with a winsome smile, trying to find work to help support his adored and adoring four- year old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal,) and regain the trust of the mother of his child – his girlfriend Sophina - beautifully acted by Melonie Diaz, who is both sympathetic and wary of his actions based on Oscar’s past behavior. It is December 31st, not only New Year’s eve which makes one full of resolve for the future, but also his mother’s birthday; the relationship between mother and son is profoundly touching, and Octavia Spencer as his mother becomes the moral focus of the film. She is ever-present in Oscar’s consciousness – whether it be flashbacks or in the present. There is one tender scene depicting a celebratory birthday dinner that takes place a few hours before his crucial trip on the BART which makes evident the joyous and strong familial support system in Oscar’s life.
How many times do we read of young black men being killed in police actions? Fruitvale Station attempts to show us one of these young men in the flesh, full of the vibrancy, dreams and missteps of a life being actualized in a society that is not color-blind. The end of his life - a life filled with potential and hope brought me to the outpouring of those tears in lamentation and mourning for all the lives that are terminated before they are given the opportunity to continue on this journey we call life.