Last night I went to bed with a lump in my throat that had refused to go down since I walked out of that theater. I saw Fruitvale Station, the true story of the last 24 hours of 22-year-old son, father, boyfriend Oscar Grant, before he was murdered at a train station by a police officer. This isn’t a spoiler for the movie, since it’s made clear at the beginning what will happen, but Oscar ends up in a fight on a train with an old enemy from prison. With all the commotion, the train stops, police order everyone off and then snag every black man who might’ve been involved and throw him against the wall of the station. After a beating and verbal altercations, Oscar is thrown on his stomach, cuffed, and then an officer shoots him in the back. The officer ended up spending 11 months in jail and then was released. This happened in 2009.
I had to text my mom and tell her first, that I was crying, and then, that I saw a movie that changed my life and that never ever happens to me. What some call the “intensity of effect” I call bawling into the steering wheel. It was a fantastic film, a horrible tragedy of a system so far off. And I don’t know how I am supposed navigate into conversations about race right now. I am a privileged white man, but I want to listen. I want to know what I can do. I want to know what I should know.
As a human being and a lover of the “cinema”, I was blown away by young, debut director Ryan Coogley’s human portrayal of Oscar Grant. While yes, it is hard to not be sympathetic to Michael B. Jordan (one of the best actor’s of our generation, hands down), there are also parts where I leaned back and tilted my head. Oscar wasn’t a martyr, as none of us are, but I assumed Ryan would make him to be such. I assumed that since this movie dealt with racial profiling/police violence that Oscar would become a great symbol, antithetical to racial stereotypes and proven to be a virtuous man we should emulate. But he wasn’t. And in many ways, he was. He had both good and bad in him. This is particularly emulated in the moving, heartbreaking scenes of him playing with his daughter, washing dishes with his mom, all the while we know what’s coming in just a few short hours. But he was also a work in progress with some moral shortcomings. He was trying to give up drug-dealing, find a job and stay faithful to his family, and you found yourself frustrated with him because you feel like you know him and you know that he’s better than that. Coogley sustains his story as one of being human.
And maybe that was the most moving part. Maybe that is what had me tear-streaked at the credits. He was a beautiful disaster, just like any of us. He was a father. He was a boyfriend. He was son. And that story packs a punch so deep in your gut because it’s true and when you think through racial injustice, gun violence, police abuse, the realities that many of us do not face, you realize how many Oscars there are out there. You realize that you are actively participating in, paying for, a criminal justice system, an economic system, a political system that still treats minorities as less than. And that’s sobering, and motivating. And I’m still learning and I don’t want to stop.
If you are going to go see a movie this weekend, I highly highly recommend Fruitvale Station.