A film that created news on the festival circuit this year is Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station,” due out this Friday. It is based on true events that occurred in the eponymous metro station in Oakland, Calif., namely, a violent tussle that led to an innocent man dying at the hands of the police. The events were captured via mobile phone camera by an eyewitness, footage of which is shown at the start of the film. “Fruitvale Station,” a reenactement, is as poignant as it is effective owing to Coogler’s virtuoso direction.
Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is an ex-con in search of a new start. The stakes are high–his wife (Melonie Diaz) and a daughter, are both jockeying for his attention–and curbing a predisposition for mild crime (drug dealing, etc) applies a constant pressure on him. But despite these difficulties laughter still comes quickly to Oscar, a generous and optimistic young man who will gladly let the jokes fly, especially when an extra heaping of charm is needed to appease his increasingly dubitative wife. But will he or won’t he retreat into his old ways?
As the young couple and their friends return home on Oakland’s BART after watching the New Years Eve fireworks a fight breaks out between Grant and another recently released-inmate as the train pulls into Fruitvale Station. Police officer Caruso (Canuck actor Kevin Durand of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, playing everyone’s worst nightmare of a cop), throws the EVIL:ON switch and, along with his fellow officers turns the station’s platform into mayhem. And before long someone gets shot.
Coogler draws us in by effectively raising the stakes from the beginning. Grant, a young black male, is a statistic, after all: he’s done jail time, and he’s trying not to be that guy who’ll walk away on his family. When Grant and his posse get handcuffed and thrown down on the platform floor, your heart sinks. After Grant gets shot you’re ready to call it quits and walk out.
Coogler deserves our recognition for taking on a racially-charged event, one that does not reflect well on our society. Racism still exists, obviously, and always will. But with the accession by a black man to the most powerful office in the world could one say that the page has been turned? Yet even though today’s racial climate is different from yesterday’s, most people would probably rather not hear about the incident at Fruitvale. But as pertaining to any tragedy visited upon humans by other humans we need to bear witness, and not forget.