Sunday, July 28, 2013


What do we do now? 

It’s the single haunting question that lingers on my mind after watching Fruitvale Station.  It is a film with no answers, just emptiness and despair.  I am left with images of a community and family not only mourning, but in fear that this terrifying situation might play itself out over and over again.

In the wake of the tragedy surrounding Trayvon Martin, watching a dramatic recreation of a similar event is nothing but crushing.  Fruitvale Station tells the story of Oscar Grant, a real 22-year-old, and the moments that will lead up to his shocking death.  Unlike most do-good pieces that seek to educate and enlighten and ultimately fail, Crash, Fruitvale Station never shakes its head or wags its finger at the antagonists, nor places any emphasis on them.  It wisely allows us to glimpse what a day in the life of Oscar was like and observe the abrupt tragedy and its aftermath for ourselves.

Writer-director Ryan Coogler places the tremendous weight of bringing Oscar to life on the shoulders of Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle).  Jordan brilliantly guides us through the many facets of Oscar’s persona and ultimately reveals to us a fully compassionate and charismatic human being.  That’s not to say that Oscar is without fault.  In fact, much of his life is defined by the mistakes that he’s made.

From a distance Oscar might be viewed as what Hollywood typically portrays black men as: shouting, under-educated punks.  He’s violent, aggressive, selfish, deals drugs, he has a child out of wedlock, has been to prison, and blasts rap music while racing down the street.  Yet, to judge Oscar from these images would be to fuel the machine that ultimately brings about his tragic demise.

The film quickly peels back the layers behind who Oscar was and who he was attempting to become.  He’s only selling marijuana to pay off the bills that support not only his daughter’s day-care but his sister’s rent as well and even that occupation is temporary.  His love of his family guides much of his life but is still tempered by his, at times, crippling selfishness.  Still, he’s aware of the social burden that being a black man in America places on him and is favorable towards those who don’t immediately portray him that way.  We meet him at the turning point in his life where he has decided to choose to no longer be that person and with it comes the awareness that his life and that of his daughter might hang in the balance.

Every encounter that Oscar has in the film builds a sense of hope that he might be successful in that endeavor.  However, this is all undercut by the chilling atmosphere established by the opening of the film wherein we see several police officers senselessly handcuff and shoot the real Oscar Grant, all captured on a bystander’s camera phone.  We know that no matter how much Oscar wants to change or how much we come to appreciate him as a human being it is only going to end in tragedy.

This tragedy is reflected in the eyes of his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal).  The real dangers of Oscar’s world have already begun to invade young Tatiana’s mind when she confesses to her father, “I’m scared.  I hear guns.”  “Those are just firecrackers,” responds Oscar soothingly.  Tatiana’s a young girl full of hope, she plans on spending the next day playing Candyland with Oscar, but the only thing the world has in store for her is sadness.

Is this the world that we plan on leaving for this innocent girl to grow up in?  Will she, like her father, be viewed as less than human?  I certainly hope not, but the pain that comes with her realization of what the world has in store can only spark the heart to ask: What do we do now?

3.5 / 4 Reels

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