Movies: Oscar Grant Story Details Life or Death at Fruitvale Station

By David Evans, Regal Radio

“They shot Oscar Grant, swear it gave a nigga chills”

— Big K.R.I.T, American Rapstar (2011)

From the Bay to the shores of south France, the story of one of America’s great recent injustices stands to make a lot more noise in the coming months with the release of Fruitvale Station.

I recently watched the official preview for Fruitvale Station, which dropped online this week. The film tells the story of the last day of Oscar Grant, a young black man shot and killed by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police on New Year’s Day 2009 while handcuffed in the BART stop that gives the movie its name.

Starring Michael B. Jordan, who famously played Wallace in The Wire, Fruitvale Station shows the complexity of Grant’s life as a 22-year-old Bay Area man who struggled with finding legitimate employment as a result of having a criminal record. It also shows him attempting to raise his four-year-old daughter with his girlfriend, Sophina. Directed by Oakland native Ryan Coogler, a USC film school alum releasing his first full-length feature, the film was the talk of the Sundance Film Festival in January, winning its Grand Jury Prize. As the trailer premiers, the movie is now being showcased at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

The preview artfully splices together pivotal events towards the end of Grant’s life, it opens with Oscar boarding the BART train with Sophina, played by Melonie Diaz, as a New Year’s Eve countdown runs off. The preview fast forwards to a frantic collage of  scenes involving sirens, police responding to reports of “shots fired” and general madness at the Fruitvale stop, meanwhile Grant states, “We just want to go home.”

Viewers may be familiar with the immediate scenes leading up to the fatal scene but the trailer also lets us in to where the movie’s heart will likely lay with a group of scenes recreating the entirety of the day — sweet, quiet scenes between Grant and Sophina and Grant and his daughter Tatiana, Grant losing out on a job and later stuffing a wad of money down his jeans, most likely money not earned through the most ethical means. Grant with his mom, played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help), asking if he’s going to the fireworks in San Francisco that night, Oscar going to pick up Tatiana, his daughter, from a daycare playground. As the momentum moves towards the New Year’s Eve celebrations and Grant’s plans for the night, Tatiana worries about getting shot but her dad reassures her he’ll be back in the morning.

Watching the preview took me right back to the media coverage of Grant’s death when it occurred four years ago. I remember watching the video, captured by a witness’s cell phone (cells shooting footage are seen throughout the trailer), of several men handcuffed sitting on the train station platform and the distorted sounds of their protest.

Two officers, Johannes Menserle and Tony Pirone, force Grant to lay on his stomach, with his hands cuffed. Next, Menserle, grabbing his pistol — allegedly believing it was a taser — and shooting Grant in the back. Grant died a several hours later in a Oakland. Ongoing protests against the police’s involvement in Grant’s death followed, which was followed by a riot in downtown Oakland. Grant’s family filed a wrongful death claim and a $25 million dollar lawsuit against BART which wound up being settled for $1.3 million.

There have been few media projects produced in recent years (The Wire, being one) that have shown nuanced representations of the lives of young urban black males. Meanwhile in real life, Oscar Grant’s death, along with the death of Trayvon Martin, shows that racial profiling is alive and well and the consequences of profiling are just as deadly as ever.

Also co-produced by Spencer and Forest Whitaker, Fruitvale Station seems like a convergence of a needed fictional portrayal with a real-life horror that could stand to be forgotten if not for the work of a young, socially conscious director like Coogler. This movie will bring awareness to the dangers of racial profiling as well as reflect Grant’s life as someone more complex than a shady character who got into more trouble than he bargained for one faithful night. I look forward to seeing the film upon it’s limited release across the country in July.

More on Fruitvale Station

The Story Behind Fruitvale Station (Slate)

Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station Gets Standing Ovation at Cannes (ColorLines)

Follow David Evans on Twitter @davidevans9

3 responses to “Movies: Oscar Grant Story Details Life or Death at Fruitvale Station

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