Ryan Coogler knew he had a simple but powerful story to tell with this real-life tragedy, so he did the right thing: developed it from the actual real footage, with a flash back of all the little events and dramas that filled Oscar Grant’s Last New Year’s eve, supported by the precise and strong performances of Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer.
Our protagonist is not a hero, or a perfect politically-correct man, but then again, none of us could hold that flag. His day starts as he and his girlfriend Sophine make early resolution promises for that night’s New Year’s eve. He has a lot to work on, like trying to regain Sophine’s love after flirting with another woman. They both have a little girl, so they must do their best to work things out, specially since he has just lost his job at the supermarket and is on the verge to go back to dealing drugs, something that has already sent him to jail before. His mother has fired all her warning shots and won’t take any of his little “mistakes” anymore. She showed him exactly what she is made of many years ago during visiting hours when she refused to give him a hug goodbye. Now, in his death-bed, she will later beg the nurse to let her hug him one last time, but she won’t be allowed. After all, it was she who sent him on the train that night to avoid him to get pulled over for drinking. We are taught to feel guilty and accept, while people resort to their fire arms first and think later…and then ask for forgiveness.
Fruitvale Station hurts deeply with its depurated depiction of what it means to be black and a minority and struggling in a big city, with the many complications and responsibilities of modern life. It places the camera with every little detail of Grant’s existence in a day, from the moment he decides to “Do the Right Thing” to his sudden bursts of violent frustration. It follows him and his friends through the streets and inside the train’s wagon where black and white share the happiness of a new year, and it lays on the floor with the wounded Oscar simply saying “I have a daughter”. Coogler uses real footage to introduce the film and as the coda, but the dramatisation in between expands the inner feelings and actions of its protagonists where a documentary could only describe and explain.
Sometimes, films come at the right time, and having been released during the whole Trayvon Martin’s death trial (It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival a moth before and it was commercially released by the time the trial got to a resolution), it only underlines the fact that in America, the color of your skin will determine not only your success, but also who lives and who must die.
The fact that many filmmakers still feel the urge to expose the racial issue in America (Crash, The Blind Side, The Help, Precious, The Butler, among others) should give us a hint on how it is still pretty much alive and crippling the heart of a country that is currently lead by Barack Obama.
As of today, Grant’s case keeps sending protesters to Fruitvale Station on the date of his unnecessary death, and life and death go on the same in this country.