Black History Month Tribute: “Fruitvale Station” Review

Year: 2013
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director/Writer: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer

By Morgan Roberts

It is sadly not an uncommon story. Especially in the United States. “Unarmed Black Man Killed by Police.” Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Philandro Castile. Michael Brown. Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut, “Fruitvale Station” (2013) took an intimate look at the life and murder of one young man named Oscar Grant III.

The film starts with actual cell phone footage from the train platform minutes into the new year. You see the bystanders calling out police for accosting a group of men, Grant among them. There’s a scuffle. And a bang.

Coogler consciously highlights the dehumanization of people of color. How, instantaneously, stereotypes fill in the void of conversation. 

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Kevin Durand and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station (2013) © 2013 – The Weinstein Company

Instead of reducing Grant to the headlines that followed, Coogler brought humanity back to the man who had it snuffed out at the age of 22. He gives us a snapshot into who Grant was. A young man trying to find his way in a world with all the odds stacked against him. Grant is portrayed earnestly and authentically by Michael B. Jordan, who breathes life into Grant. It is a harrowing performance.

One that does not sugarcoat poor decisions, does not condone all behaviors, but gives context and complexity to a human being. Jordan shows him trying to be a good partner to girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), striving to make him mother (Octavia Spencer) proud, and doing all he can for his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal). Jordan makes Grant flawed like the rest of us, but also makes him just as deserving of care, compassion, and love like any other person.

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Ariana Neal and Michael B. Jordan Fruitvale Station © 2013 – The Weinstein Company

Coogler consciously highlights the dehumanization of people of color. How, instantaneously, stereotypes fill in the void of conversation.  He does so in factitious scene where Grant encounters a wounded pitbull. Pitbulls are like people – and specifically men – of color. Demonized by society for arbitrary reasons.

“Fruitvale Station” not just shines a light on the issue, but humanizes black men when the world tries to strip them of their personhood.

I remember seeing “Fruitvale Station” in theaters. It was less than 24 hours after the verdict of the Trayvon Martin trial, where the grown man who assaulted him and then killed him was acquitted. I remember feeling a need to see it that day. But I had trepidations. Me, a young white person, was surrounded by old white people. I was afraid the demographic of my fellow moviegoers would be filled with the same hatred and prejudice that perpetuates this.

fruitvale station
Melonie Diaz and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station (2013) © 2013 – The Weinstein Company

Instead, my preconceived notions were met with humanity. A group of individuals sobbing and sniffling their way through this heartbreaking story, this heartbreaking film. It was a visceral moment. I felt the weight of it.

While Coogler gave a space for Oscar Grant, the story is sadly not unusual. Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Antwon Rose. Just too many to name. “Fruitvale Station” not just shines a light on the issue, but humanizes black men when the world tries to strip them of their personhood. “Fruitvale Station” is a raw, emotional film. And it is one that should be mandatory watching.

 

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