I’ve known about this film for some time. Particularly after it won Best Picture at Sundance, there has been talk of Oscar in more ways than just one for this new director and film. It is also going to be in competition at the Cannes Film Festival for the Palme d’Or under the designation, “Une Certain Regard”. And now the trailer has been officially released for the first time today. Fruitvale Station is based on the last day in the life of one Oscar Grant, a young black man who was shot to death New Year’s night by police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale BART station.
This is an interview with Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler on Democracy Now! several months ago. Coogler is a graduate of USC’s film school, the same film school that turned out George Lucas, John Singleton, Caleb Deschanel, Ron Howard, and Shonda Rhimes.
Zeba Blay over at Shadow & Act had this to say about this critically-acclaimed film in January:
[Michael B. ] Jordan has turned in what will most definitely be a career-defining performance. Best known for his work on the TV series Friday Night Lights and more recently the found footage movie Chronicle, the young actor has proven here that he is not only ready but seriously deserving of so-called A-List status. The quiet beauty of the role is that he isn’t perfect – at the top of the film Oscar has only just ended his weed-selling; a flashback later in the film reveals his mother visiting him in prison for an undivulged crime. Still, Coogler takes care to frame his screenplay, no matter Grant’s past (sic) mistakes, as ultimately the story of an extremely decent person.
Indeed, the film casts a very sympathetic eye on Oscar, shedding a slightly more ambiguous light on the cops who detained and killed him. Detractors may say that the film wears its agenda too obviously on its sleeve, warping what might or might not be the “truth” for its own convenience. But what is perhaps most interesting about Fruitvale is that it stands at the intersection of cinema and a digital age where sites like YouTube and WorldStarHipHop have complicated the very notion of what the “truth” even is.
The movie also stars Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Butler as Grant’s mother, Ariana Neal as Grant’s little daughter Tatiana, and Melonie Diaz as Grant’s girlfriend. Rounding out the immediate cast are Chad Michael Murray and Kevin Durand as the two BART officers responsible for Grant’s death, and Ahna O’Reilly as Katie. Forest Whittaker produced the film with The Weinstein Company distributing it.
I think that Coogler chose to make a dramatic film rather than a documentary about Oscar Grant’s last day because drama sometimes allows one to humanize the subject, no matter how controversial. I also think of this film as the anti-Django, as it was beginning to get buzz just as Quentin Tarantino’s blood and slug fest started gaining both acclaim and controversy. One important thing about Fruitvale Station is that the focus, ultimately, is on the black hero (although Oscar Grant does die), and not on a secondary character like King Schultz. Or in this case, the BART officer, Johannes Mehserle, who in my opinion, executed Grant. Unfortunately, even Mehserle’s actual name is not used in the film, nor is that of the other officer directly involved, Tony Pirone. No matter: they aren’t heroes.
The fact that Oscar’s killing was videoed all over the country and around the world because of the ubiquitous cell phones that all the bystanders carried has made cops even more nervous about even the appearance of misdeeds. Some now have a way of fighting against prosecution. A very recent case in point is the vicious beating death of David Silva in Bakersfield, CA last Tuesday night. Silva, a Latino, was inebriated and already on the ground, but sheriff’s deputies set on him and killed him outright with their clubs. Then the deputies tried to make sure that no one would be prosecuted by having every cell phone camera that might have been trained on them confiscated. I kid you not, and the witnesses will stand up in court despite smears and false accusations from cops.
Kern County deputies beat an intoxicated man to death in the street Tuesday night, then detained and intimidated witnesses, confiscated video evidence, and arrested another man who spoke out. David Silva was beaten with batons, left in a pool of blood until an ambulance finally arrived after he was already dead.
A female 9-1-1 caller named Selena told the dispatcher, “There’s a man laying on the floor, and your police officers beat the (expletive) out of him and killed him.” She said that she witnessed the victim do nothing wrong to cause 8 officers to bludgeon him to death. “These cops had no reason to do this to this man.”
A 19-year-old male witness, Ruben Ceballos, was awakened around midnight by screams and loud banging noises outside his home. He said he ran to the left side of his house to find out who was causing the ruckus.”When I got outside I saw two officers beating a man with batons and they were hitting his head so every time they would swing, I could hear the blows to his head.” He said that Silva was on the ground screaming for help, but officers continued to beat him After several minutes, Silva stopped screaming and was no longer responsive, according to Ceballos.
Another witness, Jason Land, said that he witnessed the beating of David Silva. “They jumped out, reached for their bats, and beat that man until they killed him,” he said, “right in front of my face.” Land spoke up about what he saw and was arrested as retaliation. The witness was on probation and says police responded to his eyewitness report by claiming he was high on PCP and arrested him without any proof.
Next time, don’t even say you have a cell phone to the cops if you see this kind of thing. Get a good lawyer who will apprise you of your rights, and then give up the video to those who are preparing a wrongful death or a prosecution case against those who were responsible. Murder at the hands of police is also wrong, wrong, wrong.
The spectre of Oscar Grant will not rest until incidents like these stop. Fruitvale Station debuts July 12. Check your local cineplex listings and run, don’t walk to see this movie.