The howling sound of the BART train produced nostalgic feelings of my childhood growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. The sounds also re-hatched memories of the tragic event on New Years 2009; a tragedy that sparked action, eventually leading to this very film – Fruitvale Station. Opening up with real life cell phone footage from the platform of Fruitvale Station in Oakland CA, the fatal shot that ended Oscar Grants life is fired and the screen goes blank.
The film transitions into the last day of Grant’s life, giving us an intimate picture at the intricacies of the young man whose death shook the nation. In the aftermath of his death, heightened and polarized opinions of the real life man swarmed in the media. Writer and director, Ryan Coogler made sure to introduce the audience to who Grant was beyond the headlines. An exceptional performance by Michael B. Jordan humanized a multi-dimensional Grant. As a Bay Area native within Grant’s age cohort, I could not help but watch the film and think that this could have been my schoolmate, my relative, my friend.
The essence of life is found in the lives of those we touch. This story was told from the perceptive of the relationships Grant had with the most important people in his life – his daughter, mother, girlfriend, friends, and extended family. The social reality of his character was displayed on screen, helping the audience to connect with him not as a “good” guy, or “bad” guy but as a human being.
On screen Grant affectionately and playfully connects with his daughter, Tatiana – his pride and joy. A Daddy’s girl, endearing moments of the two racing, making funny faces, being comforted when scared, and sneaking her extra fruit snacks showcased the caring father he was. A flashback to Grant’s time in prison also reveals the mistakes he once made that kept him from being the father he wanted so badly to be. It too, showed the pain of his own mother, Wanda, played by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, who grew tired of enduring the painful reality of visiting an incarcerated son, and comforting his daughter who could not comprehend his absence. This very flashback reminded Grant of his desire to change his life though he struggled with keeping a job and providing financial support for his family. Trying to keep a lie, we see the attempts Grant makes to right his wrongs.
A family celebration for Wanda’s birthday was the heart of the film, where the most important people in Grant’s life gathered unbeknownst to them, for the last time. Eating a traditional Gumbo dish for New Year’s Eve, the family did what we all do around the holidays-chow down with laughter and fun as their main course. Following, the BART ride to San Francisco was a fun and exciting thrill – slappin’ Mac Dre, a deceased Bay Area rapper, everyone on the train could be heard rapping, “I’m in the building and I’m feeling myself.” Anyone who has ridden BART on New Years knows the magnetic feelings of this party bus that empties into the dynamic streets of San Francisco. It’s was a celebration and Grant and friends did just that!
One moment can change a lifetime. Throughout the film there were opportunities where one decision might have altered the fatal outcome. The looming hope of an alternate ending was present. However, a scuffle on the BART train led to the event we all hoped to escape – Grant and his friends being held on the platform by police. Even in these last few moments you can see the multi-faceted sides of Grant as he was angered by feeling unfairly targeted, while yearning so badly to get home to his family. By the time audiences witnessed the fatal shot fired, an excruciating pain accompanies. There were no dry eyes in the theater.
Following Grant’s family and friends we all anxiously waited in hope of Grant’s recovery, at Highland Hospital. Any Bay Area native knows the fear that accompanies the cold halls of this well-known trauma center. The audience joined Grant and wanted so badly to see his life work out for the best. This was our son, father, boyfriend, and friend. We had spent the last hour getting up close and personal with Grant and mourned his loss potential. What weighed heavy on our hearts was our knowledge that this was more than a movie; it was real life – a reality we dreaded.
The film closed with its final clip capturing Grant’s daughter at his 2013 Memorial service, reminding us of her immense lost. A sorrowful feeling was partnered with hope and a call for us to cherish each moment we have with our loved ones because we never know when it will be our last.