I’m running a little low on intros for the films we’re watching lately. It just seems so empty to be continually expressing how inhumane it is the way minority groups are treated by the police – and of course, racists and society as we know it. Even now in 2020, when you’d think the world would be just a little more enlightened.
This week we learn more about the life of Oscar Grant III, who was shot and killed at the age of 22 by a police officer at Fruitvale Station, Oakland, California. A difficult, emotional story to watch but a hell of a lot harder to live/survive through, I would imagine.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
The story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.
Oscar (Jordan) is trying his best to get back on his feet following release from prison but things aren’t going as smoothly as he’d like. He’s lost his job and is evidently in the doghouse with his disgruntled girlfriend Sophina (Diaz) after shagging someone else. The pair share a daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and Oscar’s determined to get back on track for his family. At one point he’s torn about selling marijuana to help with his finances but later dumps the stash, choosing to go straight.
Fruitvale takes us through not only a day in the life of Oscar but the last day and night he spent with friends and family. It’s a senseless waste of human life and knowing what’s to come makes this an especially tense and poignant watch.
Oscar tries to get his job at a supermarket back but to no avail as his former boss has already hired somebody to replace him. There are angry words exchanged but our protagonist is able to put this aside to show genuine kindness to a shopper who needs help with a fried fish recipe. Katie (Ahna O’Reilly) gets the answers she needs from Oscar’s grandma Grandma Bonnie (Marjorie Crump-Shears) when he puts them on the phone together.
Oscar meanwhile, has been sent by his mother to pick up dressed crabs and shrimp for her birthday dinner, which he will celebrate with his family before heading into town to see in the New Year with his crew. Throughout the film we’re treated to flashbacks that show us the consequences of his multiple visits to prison and in one scene, his mother Wanda (Spencer) shares a direct quote from his daughter, who has pondered why Daddy love his ‘holidays’ away more than he loves her. Ouch.
Later, he and Sophina make up properly and head from Wanda’s to watch the fireworks in San Francisco. Wanda’s worried about Oscar driving so convinces the group to hop on the train.
When the train gets delayed five minutes before the New Year countdown, its passengers are forced to get creative with their own in-transit celebration and honestly, it’s way more fun than any NY outing I’ve ever had.
Alas on the ride home, Oscar bumps into his new friend Katie (from the supermarket) – and when she calls his name across the carriage, he’s recognised by a former prison mate from his penn days – which results in a nasty scuffle.
You get a sense of where this is going and of course it doesn’t end well. Oscar and his friends are removed from the train (but obviously not the white antagonist) and the rest is tragic, unnecessary history, leaving a child without a father and a family without their beloved son.
I think this is a great film. It’s heartbreaking but so well acted by the central cast. Octavia Spencer is a stand-out here which is no surprise. There’s something really hard to watch about her scene in the hospital as she receives the news that her son hasn’t made it. She has such poise and I can’t take my eyes off her.
I found the whole film very moving, and judging from the opening real life footage of the incident (shown at the beginning of the film), the reenactment is spot on. It’s horribly stressful – and rightly so. I genuinely can’t believe and yet am not surprised that over a decade later, we’re still seeing these senseless racist acts being committed all the fucking time. By the people we thought were there to protect us.
Overall, I thought the film did well in keeping its character reference fairly neutral. Oscar is a flawed human being who has made dubious life decisions but he’s also a good dad and a decent man, just trying to learn from his mistakes.
A couple of times it did feel as though the film was pushing the agenda of how good a person he was and therefore undeserving of his fate – the scene with the stray dog for instance – though it always pulled back and offered another glimpse of his humanity just in time.
Nobody deserves the fate Oscar receives regardless of whether they’re ‘good’ or not. And it is hard not to find yourself listing all the reasons why a person doesn’t deserve to be racially profiled and then cut down in their prime. The point is they could be a puppy doctor or a drug dealer with a violent history – and they still don’t deserve it.
I think this is a necessary watch and well worth a look. It’s currently streaming for free as part of Netflix’s Black Lives Matter collection so it’s really a no brainer.