Fruitvale Station traces the final 24 hours in the life of Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Anthony) who was shot in the back by a BART officer in Fruitvale Station on New Year’s Day 2008. Given everything that’s happened in the interim, it’s even more of a difficult watch now.
Looking back on it, I still can’t believe Fruitvale Station was a 25 year-old Ryan Coogler’s debut film. I knew after the first watch that we could expect great things from him.
In the 24 hours Coogler documents, we see the story of a young man struggling pull his life together so he could support his young daughter. Oscar Grant was an ex-convict who had just lost his job for chronic lateness, but he didn’t want to go back to selling drugs. As Oscar mulls what to do next, we watch him go through mundane everyday tasks: helping his daughter get ready for pre-school, shopping for his mother’s birthday party, and helping a clueless stranger shop for a fish fry. He’s a bit of a screw-up, but he’s funny and charming, and, most importantly, he is loved. That simple fact is what is so wrenching about Fruitvale Station — by showing us Oscar with the people he loved and who loved him, the devastation of his senseless killing hits home.
The film isn’t an anti-police polemic. It is a record, a bearing witness of what was lost, a small glimpse into the devastation Oscar’s death caused. The scenes of the shooting and his treatment by paramedics on the scene and by doctors in the hospital are graphic and lingering. We are not allowed to look away from his body and what was done to it, from how he suffered. Fruitvale Station says simply, “Look. Look at what they did to Oscar.”