I remember hearing about the Oscar Grant case in 2009 and shrugging my shoulders. Unfortunately, there was nothing shocking about what happened to that young man. Worse still, there was nothing at all shocking about how America, and in particular, the media reacted. There are a lot of things I admire about the United States, but its gun culture simply isn’t one of them – nor its record on race relations. One of my favourite rappers, Killer Mike, said in an interview not too long ago that people across the world are envious of America’s rights – especially the right to bear arms. If he’s talking about the United Kingdom, then he is talking absolute bollocks. But I digress…
Watching Fruitvale Station was an emotional experience. I’ve tried to think of a way to write this review without sounding overly emotional and over-the-top but, simply put, this film is frighteningly powerful. By the end of it I wanted to break down and weep for Oscar Grant’s family – especially his daughter. A lot has changed since 2009 – I’ve become a father to a daughter myself and the killing of unarmed black men in America has become a regular feature of the international news. Importantly, what Fruitvale Station does is humanise Grant – someone I considered a stat and a inconsequential victim of America’s love affair with guns.
From the offset, Fruitvale makes it clear that Grant was a normal man – just like me. He was a man that was brutality (if not accidentally) killed in America by overzealous authorities. Fruitvale was universally lauded, and rightly so, but many complained that it was overly positive towards Grant – a former drug dealer who spent time in prison. This is where I feel that my watching of this film would be very different to how a white man (or woman). I feel we could all universally say that what happened to Grant is wrong but I feel black men living in western society see what happened to Grant as part of ‘the black experience”.
What is the black experience? Going to prison, poverty and being harassed by the police. And on the rare occasion, overcoming your environment to do good. (I think I am digressing again… never mind)
Overall, Fruitvale Station just broke my heart – I think that is the simplest way I can put it. It broke my heart. And I am as cynical as they come. This film, the director (Ryan Coogler) and Michael B Jordan especially deserves every single bit of praise they get. This is what cinema should be about.