Here’s a question ”Fruitvale Station” raises that you haven’t seen discussed in much of the critical comment about Ryan Coogler’s hit. Did Oscar Grant (Michael B Jordan) deserve the fate he met on the night of January 1, 2009 on a San Francisco commuter train?
Just like we might answer to the questions of whether a sexual assault victim asked for it by drinking too much or wearing a short skirt, the answer to any right-minded person is ‘absolutely not’.
But here’s another question. Whether or not the police are right to drag you and your friends off a train (probably because there’s been a disturbance and you’re black), would you keep standing back up, yelling, angrily challenging them and making demands while they already have their hands on their holstered guns and are getting increasingly agitated themselves at the unruly crowd watching and recording?
Yes, everything the cops did was wrong. But anyone in the world – not just America – will tell you the worst way to deal with trigger-happy, racist cops in post September 11 is to get in their faces with swagger, anger and attitude. Grant ended up handcuffed and lying on his face – a position he might have avoided if he and his friends had sat quietly with his hands showing. There’s a time and a place for every fight against injustice, but the way ”Fruitvale Station” depicted the events of that night, someone was frankly bound to get killed.
Until the shooting scene, we get a couple of days in Grant’s life. He’s a father to a little girl and lover to a wonderful woman he’s treated pretty badly, apparently at the wrong end of the socioeconomic ladder and having made some bad choices.
One thing ”Fruitvale Station” does is provide a respite from the tiresome and endless American myth of the Noble Dead (the same one that only ever talked about the cops, firefighters and family men and woman who died in the World Trade Centre, not the unscrupulous stock traders and probably the odd pimp or murderer).
But it makes everything that comes before Grant’s shooting kind of superfluous. This movie seems only to be stressing how this is just an ordinary guy who’s essentially good with problems, fears, opportunities and people he loves no different than all of us. Maybe that’s the point.
Using the film to address the brutality and racism that seems to be inherent in American law enforcement is a worthy goal, it’s just that the story has a structure that seems to keep it from being very cohesive.
DVD : Q&A with cast and filmmakers, featurette.