We went to see Fruitvale Station when it opened in San Francisco, two weeks ago. We saw it the day after the George Zimmerman verdict. The timing could not have made it more relevant. Living in the Bay Area, I had heard about the BART-Police and the murder of Oscar Grant in January, 2009. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, but I hadn’t followed the buzz and went into the theater without expectations, but knowing that seeing it just as the Zimmerman trial came to it’s heinous conclusion would likely have an impact. Though I knew about the story, the way in which the film was carefully and artfully made was impressive (nods to European cinema and Mean Streets). Oscar is humanized and specified in a way that defies the audience to consider that he was a complex young man (22), who was neither sinner nor saint, but hoping to find a way out of the trouble he’d found his way into in his late teens.
The director, Ryan Coogler, is a Bay Area native (Richmond). I hope he gets the chance to make the kinds of films he wants to make for a long time.
After seeing the film, and thinking about the fact that only a small portion of the people I know seemed genuinely angry about the verdict, I was moved enough to write this. I wonder how long the 24-hour news cycle will mention the idea of conversations about race. I’m guessing most people never really sat with the reality that was made evident by the verdict and by this film. President Obama did his best to get Americans to consider the reality of how it feels to walk around as a dark-skinned man in this country. But then there’s the birth of a royal British baby. And then there’s Ryan Braun. And then there’s Anthony Wienerschnitzel. And suddenly, we’re all in danger of ignoring the bigger picture yet again. Speaking of pictures, go see this one.
Go see the film. Sit with it afterward. Talk about it.
Of the 43 reviews on Metacritic, 40 are in the “positive” column, only 3 are in the “mixed,” and 0 fall into the “negative.”
Here’s a great interview with Ryan Coogler, by Elvis Mitchell, on KCRW’s The Treatment:
If you need any more convincing, Wesley Morris has written commentary on the film and the cultural moment for Grantland:
Sometimes what’s wrong with a movie suddenly no longer matters. The rickety construction of a story, the awkward shift in dramatic tone, the acutely earnest attempt to find the right wattage for a martyr’s halo: They’re beside the point. Sometimes a movie just needs to show us the light. Sometimes it just needs us to see it. I saw Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station for the first time last January in a packed house at the Sundance Film Festival. Coogler had made a film (it was just Fruitvale then) about the life and death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American who was shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer on the Fruitvale BART Station platform early on New Year’s Day, 2009.