A lot of people have asked me if "Fruitvale Station" is a good movie. They ask me this because I see a lot of movies. They also ask me this because I live a block away from Fruitvale Avenue, which leads directly to the Bay Area Rapid Transit station just a couple miles away, the one for which the movie was named. It's not called "The Oscar Grant Story," though the last day of this young man's life is depicted in the film. The title comes from the spot where that young man died.
But is it a good movie? If I told you that I avoided seeing it for months, missing the premiere at our favorite local movie palace and then for subsequent weeks while I paid to see all manner of disappointing summer blockbusters, would that give you a clue? No. Not really. The truth is, I don't believe I am equipped to tell anyone if this is a good movie or not. I know that the film opens with the cell phone video of the incident. As I sat there, four and a half years removed from that moment, I was filled with sadness and outrage, the same feelings I felt on New Year's Day 2009 when the news broke that a BART police officer had fatally shot an unarmed man on the platform just a couple miles from my house. As I watched the events of the last day of Oscar Grant's life dramatically recreated, I kept coming back to those grainy bits of video that became part of our city's consciousness. The distinctive roar of the trains as they accelerate away punctuated scene after scene. In the early morning hours, this is the sound I hear as I ride my bike to work. Early in the film, we see Oscar walk across the parking lot to the grocery store where he hopes to get his old job back. That parking lot is just two blocks from my house. The movie is filled with the sights and sounds of the city in which I live. It looks and sounds just like Oakland. And when it was all over, I felt sad and outraged.
How could this happen? Then I remembered this is the city in which a dozen people had been shot, three of them killed, over the a twenty-four hour period. A sixteen-month-old child was shot in his bed while sleeping with his father. The chances of a feature film being made based on the lives of any of these victims seems unlikely, in part because of the horrible sameness of the experience. For those of us who live in Oakland, the sadness and outrage continues.
According to the review in my son's high school newspaper, "Fruitvale Station" is a great film. One of the reasons the reviewer cites for this opinion is the veracity of the images depicted: "They use 'bruh' and 'hella' just the right number of times." They didn't mention the cell phone video, but I believe they used that just the right number of times as well. Do I think that "Fruitvale Station" is a good movie? It could be. I'm just a little too close to get the perspective. I know that it worked to remind me of where I live.