Before Trayvon Martin

“Fruitvale Station”
directed by Ryan Coogler
Significant Productions, 85 min., in theaters now

The award-winning film “Fruitvale Station” shows the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III on the day of his death.

The timing of this movie could not have been better. Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the nation-wide protests it triggered, awareness of racial injustice and police brutality are at a peak.

Grant’s case didn’t attract the same media attention as Martin’s when it happened, but it was no less galling. Grant was fatally shot in Oakland, California on New Years Day 2009 by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle. In 2010, Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison, of which he served just eleven months.

The movie starts with original footage captured by citizen journalists who were at the Fruitvale Station at the time of Grant’s homicide in 2009. They’re a bitter beginning to a film about bitter topics: police brutality and social injustice.

Besides the stunning cinematography and powerful soundtrack, the plot is the most shocking aspect of this feature. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, the film follows Grant on New Years Eve and the events that led to his death in California’s Bay Area. Trying to be a better son, a better boyfriend and a better father, Michael B. Jordan does an amazing job at portraying his character and making the audience rapidly fall in love with him.

Coogler manages to paint a portrait of Grant that’s deeply human. Heart-warming images with his 4-year-old daughter Tatiana, played by Ariana Neal, show how loving, yet unreliable, a father he was. The scenes with his girlfriend Sophina, played by Melonie Diaz, show how caring, yet sometimes unfaithful, he was. And the scenes with his mother Wanda, played by Octavia Spencer, show how devoted, yet uncommunicative, he was. It’s Grant’s flaws as well as his virtues that make the audience root for him and become hopeful for his self-improvement. Most importantly, they humanize him.

Movies like these make us understand the injustices and brutalities that we, as American and as global citizens, live with every day. They toss us into a love-hate relationship with humanity and authority. Better yet, they make us reflect on ourselves and the way we live.

–Ana Vivas

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