Wednesday, September 4, 2013


In the mid/late 80's there was a string of films made about the atrocities that were going on in South Africa at the time (Cry Freedom, A Dry White Season, Mandela, etc) that my father would avoid because he couldn’t stomach all the scenes of Africans being beaten & murdered. At the time I use to think he was being dramatic when he'd leave the room whenever one of those movies would come on cable but now that I'm older I get where he was coming from with the release of Fruitvale Station. The silent generation had Rosewood (and countless other lynchings), Baby Boomers had Emmitt Till (and, like Rosewood, a ton of other cases just like it), Generation X had Rodney King and Generation Y, my generation, had Oscar Grant & Trayvon Martin. Given that the release of Fruitvale Station coincided with the Trayvon Martin aftermath, I wasn't in the right mindset to rush out and see this as there were some pretty fresh wounds that weren't healed yet with George Zimmerman being found not guilty. Say what you want about how you knew Zimmerman was gonna get off but I honestly thought SOME kind of justice would be served.

My initial reason for not wanting to see Fruitvale Station is because I already saw the real video from many different points of view on the internet. Why see a drawn out movie version of something when I already saw the real thing? All that's gonna do is piss me of again regardless if the film is good or not. Actually it would have pissed me off twice as much if Fruitvale Station was bad, which it isn’t. Fruitvale Station is hardly bad but it’s far from great. It’s certainly powerful but in an uneven kind of way. 
Even now I almost don’t wanna write about this film because I have a criticism of it (which I'll get in to shortly) and I honestly fear (some) people can’t disassociate Oscar Grant, the real person, from the movie and will think I'm criticizing him. 
Another reason I didn’t wanna write about this film has to do with my own insecurities partially due to the expectations some people may have on a guy like me (on three occasions, before I actually saw Fruitvale Station, I was asked what I thought about it instead of being asked if I'd seen it in the same way customers at the video store I use to work at would automatically ask me what I thought about the latest Tyler Perry release or whatever film that happened to be out at the time that co-starred Cedric The Entertainer and/or Anthony Anderson). It's in the same vein as that assumption, made equally by both black people & white people, that Spike Lee is automatically my favorite director because I'm black and he's black. I genuinely don’t wanna be the black guy who writes about "black movies". Why do you think I avoid writing about Spike Lee so much on here? Because in a way, it’s expected of me. 
But at the end of the day I can’t let that stuff stop me from watching & writing about a film that everyone is talking about on a site that a descent amount of people read...

I feared Fruitvale Station would fall victim to portraying the protagonist out to be some kind of realistic/believable saint out of fear of judgment from ignorant fox news watching, Rush Limbaugh listening, Ted Nugent loving conservatives who went out of their way to make Oscar Grant out to be a good for nothing thug (which is their way of saying he got what he deserved). As I assumed, the majority of Fruitvale Station fell in to that trap. Conservatives, racists and other Oscar Grant detractors aren't gonna be swayed by this film. All you needed to do was watch the coverage on Fox news leading up to the release of Fruitvale Station to see they already judged/hated it before they saw it so why indirectly cater to them and essentially try to prove something to that crowd? 
I'm not saying Director Ryan Coogler did this intentionally but its written all over the tone of the film.

In the first hour of Fruitvale Station Grant, played by Chronicle co-star Michael B. Jordan, helps a dog off the street that’s been hit by a car, gets his grandmother to give cooking lessons to woman over the phone, decides he's gonna stop selling drugs and dumps $1,000 dollars worth of weed in to the ocean to prove to himself he really means it. Coogler still makes it a point to show Grant's faults & short comings in life - he cheated on his girlfriend, he lies & has a temper but at the end of the day that stuff is overshadowed by all the good stuff he does in a matter of a few hours. I don’t know if those events happened or not because I wasn’t there but in all honesty, it didn’t really fascinate me. What fascinates me is how someone could be face down, handcuffed, surrounded by three cops and still get shot (only to have the cop who shot Grant get out of prison after 11 months). Apparently the BART cop who shot Oscar Grant mistook his real gun for his taser gun. It's scary to think that there's trusted officers of the law in existence who mistake a taser gun for a real gun (and I personally don’t care what kind of pressure he/she may be under. There's training for that as far as I'm concerned).

Understand that part of my criticism comes from personal preference. I understand the choice to focus on the last 24 hours of Grant's life. Generally speaking, we all fall in to that groove of a daily routine and usually take 24 hour periods for granted. The last thing we expect is to get murdered. So narrowing the subject's life down to his final day where he does a bunch of small yet meaningful acts makes sense when I take a step back and look at the film from a far.

But at the same time, Oscar Grant coulda laid around for the last 24 hours of his life and scratched his nuts for all I care. He was still executed (accidentally or not) and the whole world saw it on the Internet yet no real justice was served. Not to take anything from Jordan & Octavia Spencer, who were both great, and call me cliche, but Fruitvale Station would have possibly been a more effective documentary. 

Oscar Grant's murder may have been the first injustice of that magnitude to be "embraced" & spread through social media.
Ironically, the same people who screamed about justice for Oscar Grant on MySpace & Facebook could have cared less the day of his murderers sentencing as they were more enthralled by Lebron James' decision to go play for the Miami Heat which was happening at the exact same time...

But no matter how flawed I may think it is, Fruitvale Station is still getting tons of praise and positive feedback which is a great thing no matter what. The film's heart is in the right place (which is an understatement) and the last 30 minutes is very effective/powerful. The last third of the film is what really intrigued me. Had Fruitvale Station only been the last 30 minutes it would have been an almost flawless short. I appreciate that a film like Fruitvale Station is getting so much attention & praise (or was even given the green light to be made!) with a cast made up of unknowns, traditionally supporting players (Kevin Durand & Octavia Spencer) and young/up & coming actors like; Michael B. Jordan & Melanie Diaz (thankfully Anthony Mackie & Rosario Dawson, who are both great, are in their mid-30's now and couldn’t be predictably cast in this). 
I also find comfort in the fact that the director of this film is a young male of color around the same age that Oscar Grant would have been if he was alive today.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...