Oscar Grant was only 22 years old when he died after being shot in the back by an Oakland transit policeman in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009. The public outcry that followed was inflamed because the shooting was recorded by shocked BART-train passengers who captured it on their cellphones and immediately posted online. One of the young Bay Area residents who was outraged by what transpired on the video was an aspiring filmmaker named Ryan Coogler, also 22. In Southern California, 21-year-old actor Michael B. Jordan watched the grainy footage on Facebook and had a heavy heart. “Being somebody who was so close to my age, it was almost like a peer getting shot down,” he says. “It kind of really sat with me.”
Three years after Grant’s death, Coogler and Jordan set out to tell the story of Grant’s last 24 hours alive in Fruitvale Station. It’s not an angry film, nor does it lionize Grant and make him a saint. Grant had dealt drugs and served a prison sentence. But at the time of his death, he was trying to start over — according to those who knew him best — and become the son, boyfriend, and father that others needed him to be.
Coogler had earned the trust of Grant’s family, and interviewed everyone who crossed paths with Grant on Dec. 31, 2008. Combined with cellphone records and legal documents, he pieced together Grant’s movements and interactions to create an informed version of his final day alive. Such details were crucial — especially for Jordan, who Coogler recruited to star — because there was very little if any video of Grant himself. That is, except for the horrible video of his final moments.
Fruitvale Station premiered at last January’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won several top prizes, was quickly picked up by The Weinstein Company, and is currently a serious contender for several year-end awards. Sundance audiences were stunned into silence by the film, which opens with the actual amateur footage of Grant’s shooting at the Fruitvale BART station. It was a decision Coogler wrestled with. “That was something that I was initially very firmly against,” he said at Sundance. “I didn’t want any real footage in the film. But you sometimes have to take a step back. Being from the Bay Area, I knew that footage like the back of my hand, but more people from around the world had no idea about this story. It made sense for them to see that footage and see what happened to Oscar, and I think it was a responsibility that we had to put that out there. From now on, everyone who sits down and sees this film, they see the truth. There’s no CGI in that, in what they did to that young man. That’s the real deal.”
READ FULL STORY