In a debut feature-length film, director and Bay Area-native Ryan Coogler shows how you get into the head of a mercurial, misunderstood black man: by spending a day in his shoes. And maybe his independent film Fruitvale Station doesn’t exactly opportune the audience a gamut of understanding into every black male’s mentality; but it does give a gracious glimpse into the affectionate bonds and touching aspirations as well a grim view into the frustrations and aimless decisions and that make up the man, but nonetheless take no bearing on an incident that tragically claimed the life of Oscar Grant.
Fruitvale Station, produced by Forrest Whittaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi, does not shy away from controversy as it opens with 2009 New Year’s Day footage of train station police officers battering a darkly clothed man. A crowd yells and pleads in protest for the detained individuals. And then one singular gun shot.
Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights), plays Oscar Grant who was fatally shot in the back by a police officer in 2009 at stop on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station after returning from a San Francisco firework show.
Fruitvale Station captures the essence of Oscar’s personality through his interactions. Jordan’s character will capture audiences who will relate to his aspirations to do better, the purpose that his daughter establishes to his life, the tension, trust and love for his girlfriend, and the merry social outing he shares with friends.
Moved along by Oscar’s phone activity, the too-literal on-screen text messages end with the culmination of planned New Year’s Eve celebrations. The film, following a striking rendition of the immediate interactions leading up to Oscar’s death, successfully amplifies the emotions of those individuals closest to him: his mother played by Octavia Spencer, his girlfriend played by Melonie Diaz, and his precious daughter Tatiana who is played by Ariana Neal.
His humor, sentimental moments shared with his family and child, and even his questionable choices leave the impression that Oscar is only human. But those same moments that make him human will tear at the heart of those who understand his death avoidable, unnecessary, unfair.
Director Ryan Coogler demonstrates serious potential for future projects with this film. Fruitvale Station sometimes delicately, at other times raucously but always thoughtfully portrays the day of internal and intimate battles, the struggles and triumphs of Oscar Grant. Coogler was likely touched by the tragedy of Oscar Grant’s death; the impassioned care that he demonstrates in Oscar’s character development is evident, making the film deserving of attention and certainly worth the watch. With his ability to shed comprehensive light on characters, expect powerful work from him in the future.