Last week my older sister and I decided to go see the new film “Fruitvale Station.” As soon as I’d seen a preview for it earlier this year, I knew I would go see it in theatres during its opening weekend. One reason for committing myself to this film was because I was familiar with the case prior to the film’s debut. I’d researched Oscar Grant’s homicide case – as well as a number of others – during my freshman year for an essay on modern-day Black genocide for my African-American Studies class. I also wanted to make sure I saw it during it’s opening weekend because I wanted to show major production companies and distributors that films like these can be blockbusters, just as much as films like The Dark Knight.
For the last 10 minutes of the movie, there was complete and utter silence. It was as if everyone in that theatre put their popcorn and drinks aside, sat completely still, fixed their eyes to the screen and silently wept. And as the film’s credits began to roll and everyone started filing out of the theatre, I couldn’t help but feel a somber and questioning presence amongst everyone. This was understandable though, with the film being so emotional and heart wrenching. I even walked out with my heart heavy, and my mind racing, even though I’d read about this story over a year ago. But as we all walked out in silence, I looked in the faces of some of those people, and the thoughts running through their heads became so clear through their eyes:
“Wow! That was so sad. I can’t believe it. I feel for Wanda and Tatiana and Sophina and all of Oscar’s family and friends. How could that have happened!? Wow! … So what now?”
That last thought was the most powerful to me. “So what now?”
My sister asked me something like this in the car: what was the purpose of this film? What was the theme? What did the director or writer want to accomplish by making this? How am I supposed to feel? WHAT NOW!? Her main complaint was that this story the film left no resolution for the viewers. It was as if the director left everyone feeling empty.
As a writer – specifically an aspiring screenwriter – I was very defensive. I wanted to go ten speeds ahead and call out the relevance, the significance, the genius behind this film and yell at the top of my lungs, WHY DON’T YOU GET IT? Then I asked myself the same questions and I honestly couldn’t answer them myself right off the bat. So I said nothing. Later, I read up on the director, Ryan Coogler, and what his intention was for this film. What I learned was critical to me finding out what my “WHAT NOW!?” response should be.
Coogler sole purpose was to personalize Oscar Grant’s story. Some never knew who he was or what happened to him at all. Some just saw that another young Black man was murdered by the police – not the first and unfortunately not the last. And some saw his cause, empathized and went about their daily lives once again. Coogler’s film put a face and life behind this tragic event, showing that he was a human being, with a past and a future that was taken away far too soon… and he was not unlike other Black men.
This film didn’t just show the problem of a senseless murder of a young Black man. It portrayed what life is for young Black men like Grant – full of great highs and devastating lows. What I took from this film was that there are problems that Black men face that are peculiar to them. They go through situations, prejudices, and hardships that only they can truly attest to. And these things are what connect them all. We may tout an understanding of what these men go through to comfort our minds, but if we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that it is so much deeper than what meets the eye from the outside looking in. I have a father and a brother and friends who live a reality that I will never fully know because it is a reality that I never actually experienced first-hand. I can’t say that I know what they go through, because I truly don’t. But my acknowledging their uniqueness ironically helps me to understand them so much more. When we all can recognize differences between each other, we can come to greater acceptance of what makes us who we all are — full of unique talents and weaknesses, triumphs and downfalls, struggles and successes.
The portrayal of Oscar Grant’s last 24 hours personalized his life for me. He became real to me. He was a real person, a real man, with a real family that he loved, real troubles that seemed to overwhelm him, a real past that refused to stay put, and a real future that had potential. And he is amongst many other men who have these same stories, and these stories are what make them who they are.
THIS is what I believe Coogler hoped the audience would take from this film. THIS is more powerful that a waning empathy for his family and friends. More substantial than a status on your Facebook about how sad these situations are. More important than a R.I.P. shirt. And more effective than a petition. Because if you can understand someone’s perception, their mindset, their paradigm, then you can change the world.
For more insight on “Fruitvale Station” and Oscar Grant, check out some of the articles below that I thought were great background and discussions!
- ‘Fruitvale Station’ Shows Black Male Humanity (ESSAY) (huffingtonpost.com)
- ‘Fruitvale Station’ Movie Delivers Nuanced Portrait Of Oscar Grant (sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com)
- Fruitvale Station’s Insight: Oscar Grant’s Life Was Complex; His Death Was Tragic (theatlantic.com)
- EXCLUSIVE: Michael B. Jordan Tells the Story of Oscar Grant in “Fruitvale Station” (blackamericaweb.com)
- Ryan Coogler brings heart, talent to ‘Fruitvale’ (readingeagle.com)
- Fruitvale Station: A Tragedy Told with Brevity and Strong Characterization (obsessiveviewer.com)
- Remembering Oscar Grant & Immortalizing Trayvon Martin: Why Do We Need Movies? (soulbrotherspeaks.com)