Fruitvale Station is the dramatization of the 2009 New Year’s Day shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by BART police in Oakland. The film stars Michael B. Jordan as the fateful Grant, who is trying to get his life on track on this fateful day. The film’s hand-held camera style lends a near documentary-quality to the storytelling, so expect a painful, powerful story. Grant’s murder sparked protests and riots across the San Francisco Bay Area, and it hit wide distribution within days of the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Treyvon Martin trial.
Fruitvale Station uses New Year’s Eve to show us a window into Oscar Grant’s life. In that 24-hour period, we learn that Grant is a shockingly normal guy. At 22, he’s been in prison already for dealing drugs. He and his daughter live in an apartment and his girlfriend won’t move in with him because she doesn’t think he’s really grown up. He just lost his job because he can’t show up on time.
Oscar isn’t particularly sympathetic, but Fruitvale shows us the good in him too.
Oscar loves his mom, his girlfriend, his daughter. He’s given up dealing pot, despite losing his job. He’s committed to pursuing a legal life for himself and his family. He’s kind, going out of his way to help even those he doesn’t know.
As the film hurtles toward the inevitable climax, that dark foreboding looms over each scene. And once everything explodes, chaos reigns until that fateful shot rings out. And in the frenetic rush to save Oscar as he bleeds out, all I felt was despair.
To its credit, Fruitvale doesn’t force me to pick a side. Though it’s obviously sympathetic toward Oscar, the filmmakers seem to believe that the power of the truth is enough, that simply telling Oscar’s story is in itself a cry for justice. We don’t get the trial. We don’t even get the stories of the police involved.
In hearing stories like Oscar’s (or Treyvon’s), our inclination is to rush to judgment.
Depending on our personalities, party affiliations and proclivities, we tend to side either with the victim or the perpetrator. And we condemn our enemy while we exonerate and sanctify our hero. Either the police were doing their job or they were abusing their power. Either Oscar was a thug or he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either Zimmerman is a racist or a protector. Either Treyvon was a menace or a victim.
I don’t live in Oakland (or Florida). I live in Ohio. I never knew Oscar (or Treyvon or George or the BART cops). Everything I know about these men, their stories, comes at least third-hand. To rush to judgment, to choose a side as though I have any business offering my opinion, as though my opinion counts for anything anyway is foolish and irresponsible.
How should a white guy living in Dayton, OH respond to these stories?
I can tell you that at the end of Fruitvale Station I was just sad. I grieved over the loss of Oscar Grant to our world not because I knew him. Not because he was the next Mother Theresa or anything like that. But because I bet at the end of the day he wasn’t that different from me.
We came from different cultures, our stories look pretty dissimilar. But we’re both men. We’re both human. We both love and fear and hurt. Fruitvale Station showed me Oscar Grant’s humanity and that within me that bears the same image of the same God wept at the tragedy of my brother’s death.
I can’t tell you who’s right and who’s wrong just because I watched a movie and read some Wikipedia pages.
But I can lament the brokenness of our culture. I can weep for a nation that continues to produce these stories where young men end up dead. And I can ask what it means for me to be a peacemaker in Dayton, OH, where I am.
If only we could have talked to you… But since it could not be, we ask only this: that you remember us, not as enemies, but as tragic sisters, changed into a foul shape by Fate or God or Evolution. If we had kissed, it would have been the miracle to make us human in each other’s eyes.
— The Hive Queen, Ender’s Game