A review by Brenda Daniels.
Based on actual events, Fruitvale Station is the story of 22 year old Oscar Grant. He was shot in the back by police during an altercation at the Fruitvale train station, California, in the early hours of 1 January 2009. The killing was captured by other commuters on personal cameras and mobile phones. Protests and a court case ensued with the guilty police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
This film humanly retells what happened but it also provides for the audience a glimpse into the life and person of Oscar Grant III (played by Michael B Jordan). It does this roughly by bracketing two New Year’s Days – one in 2008 and the other in 2009.
In 2008 we see Grant being visited by his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), while he is in prison. In 2009, or rather New Year’s Eve 2008, we see Oscar as a free man talking to his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), who is making New Year’s Resolutions.
The conversations and events that take place on these two days serve to paint a picture of the multi-layered human being that Grant was. A man with a criminal past, infidelity and unreliability – yes. But also a man with a cherished four year old daughter, a man who loved and relied on his mother, and a human being with warmth and thoughtfulness.
The importance of this film, I believe, doesn’t lie in the dramatisation of the real events. Its value lies in the telling of the story from the point of view of a young black man. From Grant, to his family, colleagues and friends, to even a flash of talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, on TV, the main characters in this film are black. White people appear only on the periphery; even the police officers who appear on the station platform at the end seem faceless and vague looking.
While the emphasis on black to the exclusion of white in Fruitvale Station is obvious I don’t believe this film is about race. It’s simply about showing that Oscar Grant, like many others before and after him, wasn’t just a name in a newspaper report. He was a much-loved, and mourned, human being. His life, as well as his death, should not be forgotten.
Fruitvale Station is currently showing at Cinema Nouveau cinemas in South Africa.