A trend I’ve recognised recently in the movie making game, which honestly has become noticeably more prevalent in this digital/all-access/Twitter age, is the quick turn around on commentary of current, important events. Look to the recent release of TWO Steve Jobs flicks in the past three years, both released within a half-decade of his death. Yet, the more important important and pressing stories threatening our society are glossed over. ‘Fruitvale Station’ is a film which tells the true story of a young, black man named Oscar Grant who, in 2009, was wrongfully, racially profiled by police then murdered in a highly sketchy and very public instance of police brutality, but I am positive that a lot of you will never have heard of this case.
The surprising fact in watching the film, was that even though I personally knew what would happen after a quick Google search, it didn’t make it any less shocking to watch. ‘Fruitvale Station’ is basically a solo performance by Michael B. Jordan, who plays protagonist Oscar Grant. The film follows his last day alive and makes a wholehearted attempt to give an honest portrayal of the kind of man he was, perhaps with a little embellishment and more pleasant framing. All in all, Grant seemed like a normal guy. Yeah, he’d taken a charge for dealing drugs and spent some time on the inside, but from every in depth source I’ve read regarding the topic, it seems more the case that he was a genuinely good person that simply had little guidance in his life as a kid, for what it’s worth.
For a film with so little source material, that also had to pack an entire story into a one-day timeline, I thought director Ryan Coogler made a decent and engaging narrative arc out of his debut feature. Furthermore, I liked what Coogler achieved in cutting between live cell phone camera footage of the real incident, which tremendously accentuated the genuine tragedy of it all. I’m not surprised it won twice at Sundance Film Festival.
One of the more remarkable scenes in the film occurs early on as Oscar is casually filling up his car at a gas station. A stray pitbull approaches him, so naturally he pets it looking around for the dogs owner. When he realises there is no owner in sight, he resigns to let it go, as he can’t conceivably care for a dog at the time. However, moments after the dog leaves, an errant driver tragically strikes the dog, an event that escalates into a hit and run. Oscar immediately bolts to the dog’s side, picking it up and comforting it in the last moments before removing it from the road. I found it thematically interesting because pitbulls have been considered to be symbolic of unjustly feared young black men, which turns out to be quite profound.
I feel that some contextual knowledge is important to understand why this film is so important. The heartbreaking shooting at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California preceded a surge of police violence that has taken place in America over the last 6 years. If your head hasn’t been towards American news recently, it has been a tragic trend, with notable victims including Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner. Not to mention the intense rioting going in Ferguson, Missouri. For whatever reason, the U.S. cannot get its act together when it comes to keeping hotheaded police from beating up innocent people, and it’s this social phenomenon which makes this film so important.
Racism has become a huge social issue within the last decade in America, and I believe that both low and high profile filmmakers have an important part in presenting this to a mass audience. It’s outrageous that racist incidents and senseless murders still happen in the era in which we’re living. The dichotomy between the broad acceptances of all people in the millennial generation, with the closed-minded, stubbornness of the baby boomers, is strikingly perverse. I believe in film as a medium that can dissect problems and make people think about, or subscribe to, different points of view. If only Hollywood would swap the money-hoarding Superhero blockbusters for ideas that truly matter.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer