I had a hard time coming up with the right headline for this post because I felt there was much to say but no way to appropriately describe Fruitvale Station in just a few words. Usually a film has many aspects that can be critiqued: the screenplay, the acting, the directing, the cinematography, etc. And on all these accounts, the film was beautifully done. First-time director Ryan Coogler deserves great kudos for his thoughtful handling of a difficult subject, and Michael B. Jordan turned in an understated, multi-tiered performance as the ill-fated Oscar Grant.
But to discuss plot points or argue specific facts that may or may not have been included in the movie would be to ignore the raw emotion that many of us felt in that dark theater just miles from where this national tragedy took place.
During the scene in which Octavia Spencer, who does a great job portraying Oscar’s mom, is encouraging Oscar to take BART over to the city instead of driving, all of us in the audience are cringing. Because we know.
When Oscar’s little girl, Tatiana, hears fireworks and thinks it’s gunfire and she’s afraid, Oscar responds as any parent would, assuring her that he’ll be back before she awakes—that there’s no danger. But I know I wasn’t the only one sobbing through that scene. Because we know.
And when the all-too-familiar hospital waiting room scene plays out, audience members know there’s no use in his family praying for him. Because it’s all already happened.
And I think that’s what made me feel as if I’d been punched in the stomach when I watched the credits roll. And why it was silent in the waiting line for the restroom afterward.
I’ve cried at plenty of movies. I couldn’t leave Philadelphia until long after the Tom Hanks character had died. I cried three separate times in The Notebook. And don’t even get me started on Old Yeller…
But after watching those movies and my tears dried, I could always be comforted that they weren’t real—they were just very sad stories.
But Oscar Grant was a real person who lost his life. Not because he sold drugs to the wrong guy or contracted a life-threatening illness or even fought in a stupid war. Oscar Grant died because an overzealous BART cop shot him point-blank while he was unarmed and restrained. And there’s no doubt about what happened because multiple onlookers caught it all on their cellphones. And to those of us in the Bay Area who recognized that BART platform and were nearby on that New Year’s Eve, it was especially uncomfortable and excruciating.
As the movie ended, the audience sees footage of the real Tatiana at a recent event that paid tribute to her dad, which really drove home the truth—that the cop served eleven months in prison, but Tatiana lost her daddy forever.