Abuse of authority by people who control it will always be a common aspect of societies throughout the world. These practices are sickening injustices that can rile up the masses whenever they feel that a person with little to no power has been wronged by the same people who swear to protect them. Like all of the events surrounding the shamefully embarrassing incident at Oakland, California’s Fruitvale Station, the focus usually shifts to the abusers and the people who stand against injustice. That’s understandable, but one should never forget about the victims and their families.
In the case of the events that took place at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station, the victim was a young man named Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan). He was a youngster whose past wasn’t filled with promise and great decisions, but his future had the potential for the same level of improvement as anyone else. He knew this and he wanted to do what was best for him and all of the loved ones who stuck by him through the toughest times of his short life. Among those people Oscar wanted to change for was his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer), his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and their four year-old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal).
Throughout his struggles with criminal activities involving drugs, this trio of women are some of the people who stuck by him and hoped for a change. His choices up until this point have hurt them in a plethora of ways, but they could also see the chance for growth from him. It just so happened that on December 31st, 2008, Grant seemed to see what they saw and decided to give them what they wanted by giving himself a chance to succeed at life. This progress is what his family wanted from him all along, and now it’s something that he’s determined to give them.
Throughout this day, Oscar is doing all he can to make everything better for himself and his loved ones. He’s also embracing life for what it is and enjoying the positives that have been given to him from the man upstairs. Through this day, he’s truly showing that he’s more than his prison record and his past. Like all of us on planet Earth, he’s a multilayered person with positives and negatives. His past is a part of his existence, but he’s also a son, a boyfriend, a person that people like to be around and most importantly a father.
For all that he tried to change on this day, he couldn’t change the actions of others. In his heart of hearts, he wanted to be a better person and this was supposed to be the time when things changed for the better. He was determined to live up to his New Year’s resolutions and give his mother one of the greatest presents she could ask for since her birthday fell on January 1st. Unfortunately for him and his family the day turned into night and others got in the way of not only his progress, but his life.
The story in Fruitvale Station sets out to let the people know who Oscar Grant really was and who he was determined to become in the future. This true story is truly a tragic tale of a young man who finally saw the light, but was unable to meet his destiny. For many, it’s hard to accept that things like this happen, but they do and it’s important that the focus continues on them and the bias and racism that cause things like this. This is also an opportunity for people around the world to see someone as an actual person.
In order to do that, as viewers of Ryan Coogler’s feature film debut as a director, we are shown the things that made a guy like Oscar Grant human. Before this film, most of what the general public knew of him was only on the surface while his personality, his personal battles and his family have been left hidden for the most part. For the benefit of the viewer, Fruitvale Station is laid out in a way that’s very uncommon and it allows us to see all of those crucial attributes.
For the most part, the film takes place over the course of one day, but it does so by using flashbacks to the two previous January 1st dates from 2007 and 2008 as well. This is done to give the audience a wider scope on the man while keeping everything short and in the proper perspective. It’s also one of the places where Michael B. Jordan is able to shine brightest and demonstrate his versatility as an actor. Throughout these segments and much of the film itself, he needs to be able to show a range of characteristics and he does so with no issues.
I remember reading about Jordan being a rising star as far as young actors are concerned and his portrayal of Oscar Grant shows the reason why. It also shows why he can be a leading man during a time where Hollywood is seemingly in need of more of them. In Fruitvale Station, he’s able to make you see the whole person and that’s important, because he’s in essentially every scene and is obviously the main character.
I’ll also point out that Octavia Spencer and the rest of the cast also put some fine performances on display. With Spencer in particular, she wears a mother’s emotions on her sleeve for the duration of the film and it’s hard to ignore. I don’t know if she’s actually a mother or not in real life, but she certainly makes you feel like she is in this movie. She also adds a great deal of sorrow to the sad events toward the end when the final scenes are on the screen.
Speaking of those scenes, a part of me wished that Coogler and company were too squeamish to put that stuff in the movie. I honestly didn’t want to see it, because I knew it would be difficult for me to watch since it’s based on an actual event. With that being said, it need to be included, because Fruitvale Station wouldn’t have been a complete film without it and I knew it had to be in there. If you can watch these scenes and not feel something, then it’s impossible to say that you have a soul. It’s brutal, hard to digest and necessary, because it gives its viewers and unflinching look at tragedies that most of us only hear about.
The anger and sadness that is felt whenever these types of incidents happen are to be expected and are quite understandable for anyone who views everyone as human. That’s especially true when you take America’s history of violence toward young African-American men in to account. Due to these kinds of episodes happening to this day, it makes you wonder what can be done to stop them? Maybe this approach can stand in as at least a small piece of the remedy? Going deeper and showing victims like Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin and Emmitt Till as what they really are. People.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Michael B. Jordan
Chad Michael Murray
Film Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2013 (Wide)
Distributor: The Weinstein Company