Before I get into the good stuff, how about I recap the last year and a half. My last post was in December 2011, but I’ve decided to relaunch this blog. Thanks to events similar to those that sparked this site, I’ve been spending a lot of time home this summer and started getting the itch to blog. And by blog, I mean tell people my opinions about movies (and anything loosely related to said movies). After returning abroad from a semester in Italy, I’ve surprisingly seen very little of the movies I have listed under my “Films to Watch.” Now that I’m a rising senior and “thinking about my future,” I’d like to practice my craft a bit more and have a place to display my work. Just in case I score an elusive freelance position.
Now, about Fruitvale Station. Where to begin? This is supposed to be a movie review, but I’m pretty sure this will turn into a social commentary mixed with my personal experience with film. But, given recent events in our nation, I’m okay with that.
Earlier this year I learned of Fruitvale Station from a Tribeca Film email detailing the film’s impressive wins at the Sundance Film Festival. After flying off my radar for a few months, I was happy to hear that the film, which is produced by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, would see a widespread release. Besides the rave reviews I heard and my desire to support an up-and-coming black filmmaker, I knew I had to see this film after the disappointing outcome of the George Zimmerman trial.
The similarities between the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, the 22 year-old whose life served as the inspiration for Fruitvale Station, are unbelievable. Oscar, who was unarmed, was killed by a BART police officer on January 1, 2009 while being arrested. Numerous passengers on the train witnessed and filmed the murder.
The film begins on New Year’s Eve as Oscar decides to start the year off right and change his lifestyle, leaving behind his days of drug dealing. What could have easily been a mundane, poorly paced film showing everyday interactions between people is handled expertly by director/screenwriter Ryan Coogler. Michael B. Jordan is endearing as the good-hearted Oscar who is earnestly trying to better his life and relationships, namely with his daughter (Ariana Neal). The supporting cast, which includes Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mother, rounds out the incredible acting in this film. Each scene felt authentic and genuine, from Oscar’s friends and their drunken dancing on the train to the family’s conversation about who to root for during the upcoming Super Bowl. Oscar’s family felt real and was relatable, behaving a lot like my own family at times.
Despite having knowledge of Oscar’s fate before entering the theater, Coogler was still able to make the entire audience’s heart ache when he died. I felt as if I was in the hospital waiting room with Oscar’s family and friends as they prayed for his recovery. The director’s simple but extremely powerful decision to close the film in complete silence hit me straight in the gut. There was no Hollywood ending, even though I hoped for one against all odds, and I loved it. We are simply left we the knowledge that the police officer who killed Oscar only served 11 months in jail after claiming he mistook his gun for a taser.
As the audience, which was mostly filled with black parents and their adolescent sons, exited the theater, there was complete silence. Sniffles were heard and tears were on just about every person’s face, almost as if we were in a funeral procession. It felt as if the weight of America’s long history with race, from recent racially charged discussions about the George Zimmerman trial to the reality that being a black man is a deadly position in this country, was pressing in on the room.
I have never seen an audience experience such an emotional reaction to a film, and I commend the entire cast and crew for their commendable work. Ryan Coogler, a Bay area native, gave us a realistic portrait of a tragedy from start to finish, even including footage from the actual murder. His no holds barred approach is refreshingly direct and straightforward, and I look forward to seeing his work in the future. This film shows why there is such a great need for people of color behind the camera. It is clear that his own upbringing helped him write such an honest and authentic screenplay. From the distinct Bay area “bruh” to comments about buying a birthday card with black people on it, his characters are regular black people. This is why we need diversity in casting and filmmaking. With writers of colors at the helm, we are given representations of people of color who are not caricatures, but actual people.
I’m glad to see that black people, and Americans of all different backgrounds, are supporting these new and very necessary voices. I am glad to see that black people are pushing to keep this “national conversation” about race going and are actively demanding change. Fruitvale Station rounded out the top 10 at the box office this weekend. If I haven’t made it clear by now, you should definitely go see it.