Fruitvale Station (2013)

indexWritten & Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Setting: San Francisco Bay Area

Recommended by:  Alex Withrow

This week I hit a milestone that was inevitable, I suppose. For the first time, someone got angry and “unfriended” me on Facebook. And I wasn’t even being a sarcastic ass … honestly.

It started when I reposted an article highlighting my support of Black Lives Matter.

This person seemed to infer that I was anti-police. I told my husband about this, and he thought it was funny. After all he is a cop, a white cop, no less. So yes, I am pro-cop, and this profession pays my mortgage. Furthermore, I know what it’s like to wonder if the day will come that your loved one won’t come home from work alive.

The attitude that being “pro-cop” and “pro-Black Lives Matter” is contradictory, that we’re supposed to “pick a side,” is a mystery to me. My support of police has nothing to do with the fact that I am horrified by what is going on in this country, the death toll among young black men, and the fact that Black and biracial couples have become terrified for their sons.

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This made me doubly appreciate Fruitvale Station’s devastating but nuanced portrayal of a young black man’s death at the hands of a police officer. Opening with cellphone footage of the actual incident that inspired this film, the shooting of twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant, it seeks not to preach but to let us get to know Oscar. Social media chatter would reduce him to a laundry list of his past transgressions–spent time in prison, drug dealer, drug user–as if this somehow softens the tragedy. As if it removes all responsibility from us, as a society, for the fact that these tragedies happen far too often.

In Fruitvale Station, we follow Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) through the last day of his life. We see him in various roles: unfaithful boyfriend, loving father, devoted son to his mom (Octavia Spencer), and unreliable employee. We see him trying to break away from the world of drug dealers, earn an honest livelihood, and become the father his daughter deserves.

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This is painful to watch, knowing how it will end, but it’s so beautifully portrayed it’s impossible to look away. We get a glimpse of the messy, difficult life of a charismatic, likeable young man–basically still an adolescent–whose poor judgment often makes him his own worst enemy. We see the society around him, a tangled mix of racial tensions and people coming together, without discriminating, joined by their shared humanity.

The inevitable climatic scene is wonderfully and horrifically intense and real. Neither the shooting victim nor the police are wholly in the wrong, and the officers make typical mistakes that cops, caught up in a morass of fear, ego, and duty, often make. The moment when the shooter realizes what has just happened and his partner works frantically to revive Oscar is heartbreaking in its own right. And it makes it clear how a situation like this escalates so quickly, shattering many lives in the blink of an eye.

Ultimately, however, the focus is where it should be, on the tragedy of Oscar’s death and the hole it leaves in his family. Octavia Spencer, portraying a mother facing every parent’s worst fear with indomitable strength and agonizing vulnerability, knocked it out of the ballpark and broke my heart in the best possible way.

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