Fruitvale Station: Why It’s Not Just a Film

Fruitvale Station chronicles the days and hours leading up to the historic murder of Oscar Grant. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, the film offers a glimpse into the life of Oscar Grant and seeks to humanize the 22-year old man senselessly murdered by a BART cop in 2009.

I saw the film on Friday night in the historic Norris Theater. As you may know, this location was significant for a variety of reasons. I had the privilege to hear Ryan Coogler recount how he met a good portion of his Fruitvale team at USC and got to screen it with fellow Trojans, many of whom are filmmakers. But most importantly, just less than two months ago an incident involving 79 LAPD officers, blatant racism, excessive force and 6 wrongful arrests occurred less than a mile away from campus, making the film all too real and close to home.

Last week, I met with the Chief of the USC Department of Public Safety along with many others and discussed “protocols and procedures” to be implemented in the fall. We drafted tentative bullet points that may or may not hold, but only managed to scratch the surface of the underlying issue that Ryan Coogler addresses in his debut feature.

Without giving too much away, Oscar Grant (as portrayed by Michael B. Jordan) is one of the most fascinating and intricate Black male characters I have ever seen on the big screen. I spent over an hour sorting through his complexities, laughing and holding my breath at the same time, aware of his tragic fate. After every warm moment, I shifted in my seat trying to prepare myself for what no one truly can. I particularly loved the scene in which Oscar races his daughter, Tatiana, in slow motion to the car.

After the officer fired his gun into Oscar’s back I could not stop shaking. I held my hands over my mouth, trying my hardest not to disturb the audience. But as the sound completely vanished for a heartbreaking sequence, I could hear people in every corner of the room sobbing. They, too, felt the pain I was experiencing. I didn’t even know Oscar Grant. Why am I so shaken up over this? Before I allowed myself to calm down I pictured my two younger brothers, 18 and 14, who could be thrust into the same situation at any given time for no given reason and never return home, only then to be painted as a defiant criminal who deserved it. Such stories are not uncommon. At this very moment, a lawyer in Florida is arguing that an unarmed 17-year old boy named Trayvon Martin provoked and initiated his own death while on his way home from the store.

A few days ago I tweeted that the May 4th involving the “USC 6” could’ve have easily turned fatal. As my friend laid handcuffed on the ground, an LAPD officer could have “accidently” drew his gun while reaching for his taser and killed her.

The moment we make this issue personal is the moment it begins to painfully matter. Although for me, it doesn’t take much effort to empathize with helpless Black bodies on the ground. Never have I been so moved, so PISSED OFF, and so ready for change after watching a film. (Not to undermine the disturbing video clips of police brutality that circulate the web every few days. Those leave me just as enraged.)

I truly believe that Fruitvale Station is exactly what the nation needs to expand the stagnant discourse on racial profiling, the growing police state, and the power of visual media. After the end credits rolled, my hands were still shaking twenty minutes into the Q & A panel moderated by Leonard Maltin. Following the screening, SCA Network hosted a reception that I could not attend. I walked to my car alone and cried all the way home—I don’t recommend crying while driving—and my head was still throbbing hours later.

I knew the film would be hard to watch, but I didn’t expect to be so emotionally and mentally affected by it. After watching Fruitvale Station, I no longer believe that a “justice” system so flawed and historically biased can be fixed. In order for real change to occur, broken institutions must be completely replaced instead of quietly reformed. Accountability at all levels must be demanded and regulated by the people. Debates surrounding a victim’s criminal history must no longer be entertained.

While the issues that inspired the film most certainly involve race, it is crucial that we frame future conversations around the fundamental principles of humanity and respect. Johannes Mehserle, the officer who fatally shot Oscar Grant claims that he intended to draw his taser, but whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. Why did he feel the need to tase a handcuffed man lying face down on the concrete to begin with?

These are the types of questions we must ask and garner honest answers to in order to move forward. The policies and procedures we implement, no matter how progressive they may seem, will fail to deliver our sons home if we don’t manage to change the hearts and minds of those in uniform. When an officer leaves his or her locker room, fully strapped and empowered, the rulebook doesn’t apply. Hundreds of corrupt “law enforcers” still have their sovereign, bloody badges to prove it.

As much as I would love to rid police forces of all racists and chauvinists, I would give even more to help those individuals, who may very well be granted more power tomorrow, truly understand and respect my people, flaws and all. Fruitvale Station is a step in the right direction. I urge you to go see it in LA, NY and Bay Area theaters on July 12.

Click here to find the release date in your city.

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