USC has finally redeemed itself with first-time writer-director Ryan Coogler. During the events that befell Oscar Grant on January 1, 2009, Coogler was in USC’s graduate program for Cinematic Arts. His interest was immediately piqued by Grant’s story, prompting him to write a script about the last day of Grant’s life before being killed by a BART police officer. Ultimately, Forest Whitaker, whose company was in search of young filmmakers to nurture, would bolster the production of the film.
The story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is a common one in Oakland, California. Grant is stuck in a cycle of “selling trees” but doesn’t quite know a better—or more lucrative—way to make money. Although he held a job at a grocery store, his chronic (pun intended) lateness forces his boss to fire him. Unable to tell his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), Oscar feels trapped by the confines of financial mediocrity. With a daughter, Tatiana a.k.a. “T” (Ariana Neal), to support, Grant can sense the pressure mounting.
On New Year’s Eve Day, Grant tries to persuade his boss to give him his job back, but to no avail. It also highlights one of the weaker points of the film, which is Grant’s repeated use of the word, “bruh.” I mean, listen, I understand Californian vernacular, I’m from there. But it’s difficult to take a character seriously at times when each one of his lines is packed with “hella” and “bruh.” In any case, after a heated exchange with his boss, Grant ends up helping a customer named Katie (Ahna O’Reilly)—a quintessential white girl—buy the right type of fish to fry. Katie later ends up being one of the BART commuters to film the shooting that took place at the Fruitvale station.
Coogler’s deftness lies primarily in visuals rather than dialogue. For instance, a scene in which Grant encounters a stray dog at a gas station elucidates the desolate, often isolating feeling of California, particularly for someone who just wants to make a connection. The stray is abruptly run over by a car, someone who just doesn’t seem to care, foreshadowing Grant’s own death later that day as a result of apathetically pugilistic parties.
The brevity of the film is perhaps what is most remarkable—because you’re not aware of how quickly the time passes as you nervously anticipate what’s coming to Grant. And, even though you know how it’s going to turn out, there is still some part of you that hopes the result is going to be different. The officer responsible for Grant’s death received a minimal sentence of two years, and only served eleven months in prison. Among other messages, the moral of Fruitvale Station is: Don’t be anything other than white when you’re apprehended by a California police officer.