Using art as an outlet, Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station painted the complex life of a young African American man in today's society. The film took us along an emotional journey by learning the good and bad of Oscar Grant's past. In the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009, his life was truly stolen from him when a BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle fatally shot Oscar in Oakland, California. Instead of making this another tragic story, the director honored Oscar's life in the film. In writing the script, Ryan made each and every audience member formulate a deep connection to this young man's character. This is why the film won over festival goers and The Weinstein Company nabbed it for distribution.
The film took us 24 hours before the event took place, following Oscar as he tries to get his life in order. Images showed the young man trying to mend relationships, find an honest living, and his kind heart in helping strangers. Even though the facts of the event were known prior to seeing the film, Ryan's script weaves so many poignant heartfelt touches that you are cleaved to the narrative. One of these moments is when Oscar is at the gas station and befriends a pitbull. He is gentle playing with the dog, yet searching around wondering who could have abandon this animal. Next, the dog is hit and left to die in the middle of the road. Oscar cries for help, but no one responds. He moves the dog getting blood stains on his shirt, and somberly walks back to his car. This scene is touching and a little bit unsettling. There is a sense of correlation to young African American youth being killed on the streets today. Even though this was a fictitious part of the film, the audience did not feel manipulated and understood it's meaning in the story.
Unlike the Zimmerman case, this event was captured on multiple camera phones. The footage was released to the media and watched over a million times. The imagery is so captivating that you understand why Ryan chose to put it in the movie. It reminds you of the pure senselessness of this incident and documents another case of police brutality. The officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and did not even serve his full 2 year sentence before being released. This demonstrates along with so many other cases of unarmed teenagers being killed by police, the value society puts on youth black males. Oscar's life was taken and his mother, sister, girlfriend, and precious daughter are left with only his memory.
Fruitvale Station stars the award worthy Michael B. Jordan, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, and indie favorite Melonie Diaz. The film opens nationwide on July 26th, but you can see it today in select theaters. Also, supporters of the film can make a commitment to end social injustice in the name of Oscar Grant and post it to their social media sites. Last, check out Ryan Coogler on Filmmaker's Magazine coveted list of The 25 New Faces of Independent Film, a good read for the summer!