Fruitvale Station is the 2013 film based on the true story of Oscar Grant. It opens with real-life footage of Grant being detained and then ends when he is shot in the back by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. Grant dies nine hours later in Highland Hospital.
The incident led to murder charges against Mehserle and a multi-million dollar settlement.
A Day In The Life
Although the movie brings out these various facts as the story unfolds, the intent of the film is to humanize Grant by relaying the events of his last day, December 31, 2008. What unfolds is the life of a troubled man on the brink of change, as well as, three females who care deeply for him. His mother, played by Octavia Spencer, his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and his young daughter – played by Ariana Neal. All of these individuals lose a part of their life when Grant dies, but in many ways, the story is about a mother’s struggle and her loss.
A Mother’s Love
In one flashback scene Grant’s mother is visiting him in prison and he has what appears to be a fist mark on his face. When she enquires about the mark, he changes the subject, but when another prisoner, threatens him and disrespects his mother — Grant verbally fights back. After the guards subdue the situation, his mother tries to calm him down. When he doesn’t respond positively, it is the straw that ‘breaks the camel’s back’ and she walks out – telling him she will never visit him in prison again.
It’s the classic act of tough love, but as the story unfolds, it’s apparent that the mother’s love for her wayward son runs deep. Deep enough, that it will eventually cost him his life.
On his final day, Grant visits his mother for her birthday dinner. She wants to believe he is finally on the right path. Since it is New Year’s Eve and he is going to San Francisco to watch the fireworks, she knows he will be drinking so she asks him to take the train instead of driving.
It’s a request that haunts her as she views his dead body at the end of the film.
Although some may feel the movie is heavy handed in its portrayal of Grant – showing him as a repentant man determined to live a good life – the underlying message is valid. Life is sacred. Every shooting victim is someone’s son, father or brother.
Rated: 4 out of 5. The movie is worth watching for a wide range of reasons, but possibly the most powerful scene is when Grant’s mother is not allowed inside the hospital room where her son’s dead body lies.
Although movies like Fruitvale Station highlight the humanity in a horrific situation, I’m not convinced they do much to sway public opinion. As Alan Deutschman points out in Change or Die, the three most common methods used to change people’s opinion – fear, facts and force – do not work. This movie relies mostly on facts and fear.
I think most individuals watching this film will already believe institutionalized prejudice exists. Those who do not believe the issue exists – those who champion causes like all lives matter, blue lives matter – or subscribe to the concepts espoused by Bill O’Reilly — will see the man’s death as the results of his own actions.
As a white man, though, I have never feared police confrontation. In 30-plus years of driving, I have been pulled over maybe a half a dozen times — and in only one incident have I dealt with an aggressive, combative officer (which, as the movie accurately points out, was part of the problem in the Fruitvale incident). Although the officer initiated the contact between us by ‘yelling me down,’ and I responded in a verbally assertive manner, I never feared for my safety or of being wrongly apprehended.
The incident ended without so much as a warning ticket.
In a perfect world, Grant would have, at most, been arrested for disorderly conduct and maybe public intoxication.
But as history has proven, sometimes the response to an act is not in direct proportion to the offense.