There are two groups who need to see Fruitvale Station. The first are young Black men. The second are the mothers and fathers of young Black men. Then everybody else.
This has been a summer full of superheroes, special effects and stuff blowing up and that’s okay. This is what we expect a summer movie to be. Nothing too heavy, nothing that asks much of the viewer. It’s like eating a bowl of ice cream. Refreshing, tastes good and 30 minutes later you’ve forgotten all about. I’ve seen my share of movies this summer. Some good and some okay, but nothing memorable. I saw The Wolverine on a Sunday and Fruitvale Station on a Monday and only one left an impression and it wasn’t the one with Hugh Jackman’s ripped torso.
I have nothing against non-think entertainment, but a steady diet of it is as bad as eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner and overindulging in non-think entertainment makes it hard to kick-start your brain when you need to. It seems an odd decision to release a movie this thought-provoking at this time of the year, but coming after the Zimmerman acquittal, Fruitvale Station is as timely as it is tough to watch.
I didn’t want to watch what happened to Oscar Grant on the last day of his life. It hurt too much, but it would hurt even more not to watch. Like United 93, there is a “it’s too soon” quality to the film, but even more than reluctance was the need to bear witness. Grant was not a choirboy or a saint. He had his brushes with the law, he had a temper and he made some bad choices that hurt both himself and his family and director Ryan Coogler doesn’t hide Oscar’s warts from us. But it’s not saints or choirboys meeting untimely ends at the hands of vigilantes, street criminals and trigger-happy cops. It’s just ordinary brothers like Grant who get caught up in events beyond their control.
Fruitvale Station won’t stir the sort of controversy of a Django Unchained, even though it is a clearly superior film. Unlike that fantasy where the Black man triumphs over the White bigots, in this case, the hero loses. There is no triumph, no revenge, no riding off to further adventures with his lady-love after vanquishing evil, because what happened to Grant on the last day of his life was all tragedy with no triumph.
Yet even though we know going in what Oscar’s fate is we care about him because he is trying. He is trying to make the right choices after too many wrong ones. We want him to live to love his woman and his child and because we know he won’t, the unfairness of it all hit us like a slap in the face.
My wife and I cried when the movie was over and she cried the next day when our son and daughter left to go to work. It hit her that hard and touched her that deeply. The Fear that our son or our daughter could be a Oscar or a Trayvon and walk out the door never to be seen alive again. How do you shrug that off and go back to reality TV and celebrity worship? You can’t.
For us to understand why Grant’s death matters he has to be humanized for the audience to see him as something more than just another casualty on the urban background. Michael B. Jordan plays the doomed Grant as a young man trying hard to make good choices and stop making bad ones and finding it hard to do. It’s a stand-out performance as is Melonie Diaz as Sophina, Oscar’s exhausted girlfriend, Ariana Neal as their daughter and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer playing Grant’s mother, Wanda who shows her son what “tough love” means. Spencer also claims a producer credit along with fellow Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and major props to both of them as well as everyone else who backed this project.
Too often the complaint is, “We need to support good Black movies.” Well, here’s a great Black movie. Black director, Black stars in a story about a Black man, so where y’all at? Why aren’t there more fannies in the seat? Why is Fruitvale Station mired in 13th place with a paltry take of $11 million dollars behind even R.I.P.D., one of the biggest bombs of the year? I knew this wasn’t going to be a Number One movie in America, but damn, I hoped it would be doing better than this.
I know summer is a time for mindless entertainment, but seriously, folks. For heaven’s sake, if Black people don’t support this movie, who the hell is going to?
It might be premature to proclaim Fruitvale Station as the Best Movie of the Year, but I’d walk away from any conversation of what are the best movies of the year that doesn’t include it.
You need to see this movie if you’re Black. You need to see this movie if you’re a human being. You need to see this movie if you give a damn.
- Fruitvale Station: A Tragedy Told with Brevity and Strong Characterization (obsessiveviewer.com)
- Why You Need to See ‘Fruitvale Station’ This Summer (news.moviefone.com)
- Go See This Movie: ‘Fruitvale Station’ Is An ‘Unstoppable Cinematic Force’ (contactmusic.com)
- Fruitvale Station Review (niallmalcolmmovies.wordpress.com)