Fruitvale Station: Re-Opening The Wounds | Aesthetically Pleasing

Fruitvale Station: Re-Opening The Wounds

I left the theater with pain in my heart.
Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler, will do that to you. The independent film has been available for limited release in selected cities across the nation*, and last Friday night, it opened at the Bethesda Row Cinema in Bethesda, Md. I didn't hesitate to get a ticket.

The movie details Oscar Grant’s last day of life - the 22 year old California native who became well-known in 2009 when he was fatally and wrongfully shot by a white Bay Area Transportation (BART) police officer. After a fight broke out on the train- which was not started by Grant- he and his friends were targeted with brutality and blamed without question, resulting in Grant's death.
The film was relased with great timing. It throws salt into our still fresh wounds from the recent case of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen who was shot and killed by a paranoid white-Hispanic neighborhood watchman. One of the major characteristics that sets these two cases apart is the fact that Grant’s unlawful murder was witnessed and recorded by dozens of BART passengers.
The bulk of the movie takes place in one day, New Years Eve. In 24 hours we learn a lot about Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan: he has a girlfriend who he loves but often quarrels with, he sells weed, he lost his day job, he did time in jail, he is a loving son, and an even more endearing father to a 4 year old daughter, Tatiana.
Nothing about Grant's life is sugar coated in this movie. In no way is Grant depicted as this angelic young man who had all of his shit together- he wasn't perfect. He was a product of his environment- a baggy jeans and white tee wearing young black man with a criminal record. But the movie also shows what is more important—that despite his flaws and his attire he was a human being who was trying to make up for the wrong that he had done. He wanted to be a better man for his girlfriend and daughter. He wanted to be a more loving son (to mother played by Octavia Spencer). He was a caring guy who would extend help to random strangers. Grant was a victim who did not deserve his fate. 

At first while watching it, the movie seemed to move a bit slow. The majority of it is characterization, setting up the scene of Grant’s life and his personality. I recanted my previous statement at the end of the film when it all came together. I blame my conditioning to American movies for that expectation of action and theatrics, and also the opening scene of the movie- the actual recording of Grant’s murder- which heightened my emotions from the get-go. But the scenes served their purpose and were executed well with the help of some great actors. They invited you into Grant’s life and allowed the audience to connect with him emotionally- to sympathize with him, to laugh with him, to take pride in him- which made the scene of his death all the more heartbreaking, and all the more saddening when the credits roll and you remember that this wasn’t JUST a movie. A mother actually lost her son, a daughter lost her father, and statistics gained another black male who has died by the hands of racial profiling and gun violence.

I was 13 when Grant was killed and I shamefully don’t remember this happening. But, at the time, the scope of my interests extended as far as Seventeen magazines and my grade school crush. So I had a lot of back-tracking and researching to do. What was most thought-provoking was the aftermath of the case.
The effect of the trial extended into the ranks of police department with resignations and firings of high-ranking officers and officers involved. The officer who shot Grant, Johannes Mehserle, was charged with first degree murder, an appropriate charge in my eyes. However, even with evidence (a video and dozens of witnesses!), Mehserle's defense that he mistook his tazer for his gun got him off on man slaughter. And despite a two-year sentence, he was out in 11 months. SMH.

It begs the question, all differences in the two cases aside, if Zimmerman had gotten charged with man slaughter, the lesser of the charges that many crossed their fingers for, would we,  the public, have been satisfied? Man slaughter in both cases seems like a cop out. Intended violence directed toward an unarmed party resulting in the death of the defenseless sure seems more severe to me (and at least deserves some sort of punishment). 
The most disheartening realization that comes with watching this film, is that not much has changed since then. This phenomenon is nothing new and it is nothing that will be fixed in a short time. These killings, these trials, these verdicts, show the already known flaws of the judicial system and the attitudes toward such violence. Whether white on black, black on black, etc these are more reminders that the life of an African-American has a lot less value in the eyes of our society.
How many times do we have to keep opening these scars before we allow these wounds to heal? How long until things change?
*The movie will be released nationwide this Friday, July 26.
Have you seen the film yet? What did you think? How do you feel about the timing of the movie with recent events?

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- Anna Son

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