One thing I love about film is that a story that needs to be told will always attract an audience.
Fruitvale Station, written and directed by Ryan Coogler is the story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a young man who became the victim of police malpractice on New Year’s day of 2009. I emphasise that this is the story of Oscar; not just the story flung over the news that fateful day and likely weeks and months thereafter.
After having watched the unwavering real-life smartphone footage recorded during Grant’s seizure by the police that the film opens with I was gripped by a crippling sense of dread. The footage slowly divulges from back and forth between officer and “criminal” then tails off into that chaotic chorus of screams, name-calling and panic which most would recognise as a precursor of uncontrollable actions and dire unnecessary consequences. This made the film seem so real, these situations genuinely scare me and had me willing for a circumstantially appropriate equivalent of a boxing referee to waltz in from stage left and break it all up.
The meat of the film introduces us to everything about Oscar Grant’s life. Oscar takes his daughter to school every morning and slips her a sugary treat unbeknownst to her mum (Sophina, Oscar’s girlfriend, expertly played by Melanie Diaz) like any quirky dad might. He then drops off his right-minded girlfriend at work and goes about the day’s errands like buying food and a birthday card for a family gathering. Whilst shopping and despite Sophina’s issues with his promiscuous, out-going personality he calls up his Grandma for a fried fish recipe to help a stranger out (after eyeing her up) and has a laugh about it with his friend who works at said shop; this is just Oscar’s personality.
Like all interesting characters, real or fictional, Oscar has problems too. He’d previously been jailed for selling drugs and now sadly after having lost his job because of his punctuality issues he feels forced into relapsing back to the trade for the sake of providing for his family. A particularly striking scene, a long shot of Oscar emptying a zip-lock bag of weed off a rocky peninsula into the ocean, was beautiful, thought-provoking and solemn all at once. The film asks us is it better to be financially comfortable dishonestly than struggle and barely get by? Oscar resists temptation (he decides to give away a morsel of left-over product than sell it) demonstrating his change into the man he wants to be; a change his better-half is also happy with ( 😉 ).
What happens afterwards is yours to see and will probably leave you scouring the internet for articles like it did for me. Films like Fruitvale Station make you briefly re-evaluate the way you consume your media. Every story be it a murder, a trial, a survival story, whatever, involves real cogitative people whose lives are condensed into mere minutes for our rapid digestion, not to mention the family and friends of the person/people in the spotlight. In this respect I feel I may have become a little desensitized to many events in recent years and should potentially work some more empathy into my life.
This film is a portal into the lives of a family, of friends and most importantly of the man who didn’t deserve the fate he was dealt; much like many others in America and around the world that suffer because of police brutality. Passionately acted and beautifully shot, Fruitvale Station tugs the heart strings just enough to subtly raise awareness of an important tragedy in the hopes of it never happening again and absolutely succeeds.