Disclaimer: this post cannot do justice to what happened to Oscar Grant or any unarmed black or brown person whose been murdered.
I just finished watching the 2013 film Fruitvale Station. If you have not seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It is a powerful drama based on the true account of the late Oscar Grant, a 22 year old black man who died at the hands of a white police officer on New Year’s Eve in 2008. Before seeing Fruitvale Station, I saw the film Black Panther. For that film, Michael B. Jordan starred opposite of Chadwick Boseman in a powerful performance, and Ryan Coogler directed the film with , Ludwig Goransson, producing the score for the film. Black Panther is an uplifting movie, and it’s a film that, while political in the sense that it’s one of the few superhero movies that features an all-black cast, is really a feel-good movie that I left feeling empowered and happy watching. I also remember Melonie Diaz from the comedy Be Kind, Rewind. In Fruitvale Station her performance almost moved me to tears.
Fruitvale Station, however, takes on a completely different tone and it will stick with me for a pretty long time (which it should do, because discussions about social injustice are hard to talk about). It shows how it’s not easy to blame all white people or all black people for racism. Instead, it shows how crucial it is to know the full story, because it’s individuals that cause disharmony, not necessarily an entire group of people. For instance, there’s a scene where Sophina, Oscar’s girlfriend, and Oscar are partying with their friends on the subway to San Francisco to celebrate New Year’s. When they don’t get back in time, every passenger on the train, white, black, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, all unite together in saying “Happy New Year” when midnight strikes. Oscar doesn’t hate white people even though he lives in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, and even strikes up conversations with white individuals, particularly a young woman named Katie and a married man whose wife is pregnant. Oscar asks a shop-owner to let in Sophina and her friend so they can use the bathroom, and the store owner, at first refusing, lets them in to use the bathroom. When a pregnant lady and her husband come up and the lady has to pee, too, Oscar asks the owner if he can let her in, too. While waiting for his wife, the guy, Peter, chats with Oscar about how he was out of work for a while and now runs his own web design business. When she’s finished, they part ways like they were old pals. Moments like these, when Oscar is talking with these individuals, when Oscar is spending time with his family before going out to the train, show how devastating the impact Oscar’s murder had on his loved ones and on people he just met.
This film is also crucial because it shows the psychological toll that police brutality has had on not just communities of individuals, but on individuals themselves. Even just a few seconds after shooting Oscar, the police officer realizes, too late, the consequences of his actions. It reminds me of the film Detroit, which didn’t show the Civil Rights movement itself, but a scene that belongs in a horror movie (I would even argue that films like Fruitvale Station and Detroit count as horror movies because they show the horrors of racism). One of the cops gets in trouble because he basically shoots at just about every black person coming home from getting groceries or just going about their daily lives. The film also shows how the business of police brutality messes up officers of color, particularly black police officers faced with confronting black individuals accused of wrongdoing. Implicit bias is real, and the guy who started the fight with Oscar ended up staying on the subway and getting off Scot-free, while Oscar and his friends didn’t because the police didn’t actually see the guy initiating the fight. This guy was an old inmate of Oscar’s and fought with him on numerous occasions, and the fact that he didn’t get in trouble makes me so mad.
Then again, this film brings up a lot of complicated discussions about racism and police brutality. A lot of people were divided about the Black Lives Matter movement because they assumed that it said that only the lives of black individuals mattered. However, that is not what the Black Lives Matter movement was trying to say. As the film shows, yes, we know, it’s a given, everyone matters and it’s also important to understand that some lives are given less social value than others. This is why it’s important for us to talk about uncomfortable topics like racial injustice because it’s not just black people’s problem, it’s our entire nation’s problem and always has been. All lives matter, and also, don’t forget black lives in that equation. White, black, brown, whatever our race, it’s hard to not talk about it because we live a racial reality every day. Because of our nation’s history of dividing people up by how others perceive them, we have to deal with this messy discussion around race and race-based prejudice. The only way we’re going to come to terms with these tough issues like police brutality against unarmed black citizens is if we just talk about it and also educate ourselves on racism if we haven’t done so already. Fruitvale Station opens up this discussion and forces us to reckon with its festering historical wounds of slavery and Jim Crow, but they’re wounds that frank unabashed discussions can heal, even if it’s inch by inch.
Fruitvale Station. 2013. Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use.