Review: Ryan Coogler’s 'Fruitvale' Is An Important Statement On The Power Of Perspective (Opens 7/12)

Reviews
by Zeba Blay
July 9, 2013 1:36 PM
3 Comments
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"Fruitvale"

Fruitvale Station has become the darling of this year’s film industry release slate, and rightly so. The drama, chronicles the real-life murder of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 was fatally shot in the back by an officer after being detained in the wake of an altercation that he was not involved with. The incident, captured by the camera phones of numerous onlookers at the Fruitvale BART train station in Oakland, prompted national outrage in what was not the first and would certainly not be the last senseless murder of a young black man at the hands of law enforcement. 

Helmed by first-time director Ryan Coogler and produced by Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer (who makes a brief but powerful appearance in the film as Grant’s mother), the film puts as much focus on the fatal shooting as it does on what preceded it, painting a picture of Oscar as not only a symbol of police injustice, but as a son, a father to a young daughter (Ariana Neal) and a boyfriend trying to do right by his girl (the wonderful Melonie Diaz).
 

The cast, rounded out by Chad Michael Murray, Kevin Durand, and Ahna O’Reilly are all stellar, but it’s lead actor Michael B. Jordan who truly carries the emotional weight of the film. The hundreds of videos from that night, thirty second snippets, three-minute clips, shaky images that still so easily can be pulled up on any internet search, show us from numerous angles the “truth” of the incident. But even that truth was debated and doubted in courtrooms after Grant’s death. Even that truth could only secure a two-year manslaughter conviction for the officer who claimed he had only meant to shock Grant with a taser.

Jordan has turned in what will most definitely be a career-defining performance. Best known for his work on the TV series Friday Night Lights and more recently the found footage movie Chronicle, the young actor has proven here that he is not only ready but seriously deserving of so-called A-List status. The quiet beauty of the role is that he isn’t perfect - at the top of the film Oscar has only just ended his weed-selling; a flashback later in the film reveals his mother visiting him in prison for an undivulged crime. Still, Coogler takes care to frame his screenplay, no matter Grant’s passed mistakes, as ultimately the story of an extremely decent person.

Indeed, the film casts a very sympathetic eye on Oscar, shedding a slightly more ambiguous light on the cops who detained and killed him. Detractors may say that the film wears its agenda too obviously on its sleeve, warping what might or might not be the “truth” for its own convenience. But what is perhaps most interesting about Fruitvale Station is that it stands at the intersection of cinema and a digital age where sites like YouTube and WorldStarHipHop have complicated the very notion of what the “truth” even is.

Coogler, by reframing what we saw documented plainly by the onlookers that day in cinematic form, by giving it context, has made an important statement on the power of not merely the moving image, but the power of perspective.


Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.

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3 Comments

  • Trninty Star | July 19, 2013 4:38 AMReply

    Agreed TEF. Oscar Grant is no Trayvon Martin, and it's insulting to compare him as so, since TM was NOT a gangster or drug dealer, no matter how many lies the news spews. Also, what's with these movies that like to give shine to Black men who glorify non-Black women as their "support" system? When did turning a blind eye to drug dealing make women sexy or supportive, instead of the hoodrats that they are? Oh yeah, when they're not Black women.

    I'm sure this movie is supposed to inspire us to further empathize with black men treated and killed unjustly by non-blacks, but when you decide to throw black women under the bus for the women who hate you, and remove black women from those black people also treated unjustly by a racist system, i lose all interest in supporting such a movie.

  • Tef | July 10, 2013 11:31 PMReply

    This dude went to jail twice for drug dealing in Black neighborhoods, to Black kids. He does not deserve a movie, although he died tragically.

  • Troy | July 10, 2013 6:27 PMReply

    I like Ghanian women. There you have a comment. This is not huff post you have to criticize a man or compliment a woman to get the ball rolling on here. Men come out to oppose you and the women come out to defend. Then those who usually wouldn't comment come thru with the reversals before the conversation dies out.

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