In the early hours of New Year's Day, 2009, Oscar Grant was shot in the back on the
Fruitvale Station platform by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer in Oakland, California. He was unarmed and just 22 years old. Director Ryan Coogler's film, Fruitvale Station is not a documentary, but a fact-based re-creation of Oscar's last day.
Comparisons will be made with the Trayvon Martin case currently in the news, but that would be a disservice to the spirited telling of Oscar Grant's story. Yes, he was young and black and shot by a white officer, but more importantly, he was connected to his friends, loved by his family and struggling to find his way in life, like so many people.
In the aftermath of 9/11, perhaps the most compelling account of its impact and sheer scope of its enormity was delivered in the short profiles a handful of The New York Times writers created for each of the lives lost that day. In a few sentences, rich with personal details, the portraits offered a glimpse of a life tragically cut short. Concise and potent, nearly every portrait will move a reader to tears, but in a manner that transcends race, class, age or gender. The collection was released as a book, Portraits of Grief, and continues to be a testament to the power of love and connection in the face of loss.
In the span of 84 minutes, Fruitvale Station's portrait of Oscar is complete. The mundanity of phone calls and sending texts and pumping gas and shopping for groceries is consistent with the pattern of anyone without a suspicion that this day may be their last. Michael B. Jordan portrays Oscar Grant. His commanding presence seen previously on The Wire and Friday Night Lights, quietly fills even the wordless moments of the film with the visible energy and angst of a young person just starting out.
Fruitvale Station may effectively memorialize a life ended too soon, but more broadly ruminates how any of us will be remembered.