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Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

America is struggling again with the questions of racism, police brutality, and how those of different racial and ethnic origin can live together in harmony. Movies are not a perfect way to understand what people different from you go through every day —the experiences, the living situations, the relationships—, but, then again, nothing is. We simply cannot “get into someone else’s skin”. No white male will ever know what a black woman thinks, feels, is, and the reverse is true. It is not possible.

But that doesn’t absolve the Christian from trying. We know that one day people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9) will gather around the throne of the Lamb Who was slain and proclaim with one voice “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever” (Rev 5:13). We are commanded to work toward that unity no matter how unreachable that goal may seem to be to attain.

One of the ways we can do this is through the arts. We can read the cri de coeur of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, or listen to the songs of the multitude of rappers, who scream their frustration, or watch movies like Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station. All of these at least give a window onto the question of what it is like to be black and American today.

Fruitvale Station may have been the best film of 2013, and even if you have seen it before, in this time of distress at the death of George Floyd, it will be well worth your time to watch it again. The story of Oscar Grant, III, a down on his luck 22-year-old black man living in Oakland, CA, Station chronicles the last day of Grant’s life, beginning with actual footage of his death taken from the cellphone recordings of by-standers at this above ground BART station, where Grant is shot by a policeman trying to sort out what had happened in a New Year’s Eve fight on the train. The movie then cuts to Grant waking up that morning, thinking about how he can be a better father to his four-year-old daughter, son to his mother (played perfectly by Octavia Spencer) on her birthday, and finally, man to his world so filled with conflict, depression, and misery. Knowing the end from the beginning, the viewer is immediately on the side of this ex-con as he moves toward the inevitable through a series of experiences that are warm, funny, terrifying, conflicted, harsh.

Ryan Coogler, much better known for his direction of the bigger—but not better—films, Black Panther and Creed, handles his material in a smooth, true-to-life fashion, heartbreakingly portraying the complexity of Grant’s world. Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post called it exactly: “Coogler never lets emotion be overpowered by emotionalism: In naturalistic and unforced strokes, he allows Grant to exist as a complex, even contradictory human, inviting the audience simply to sit with his life, his loss and what they both meant.” Michael B. Jordan in his first major film role, though already a star because of his work in The Wire and Friday Night Lights, does a masterful job of bringing out the same complicated nature, in short the humanity, of this doomed, tragic life, who, like George Floyd, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Will watching Fruitvale Station give you a final understanding of what it is like to be black in America? No. Will it help towards that understanding? Yes. You should watch it.

Drew Trotter

June 17, 2020

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