“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King famously in this speech. This may be so, but for Americans of African descent, one might add that it bends toward justice only when the unjustly treated bend it. Few groups have collectively been so wronged, over so long a time as Africans and their heirs in the US.
The discrimination continues until this day. While many doors have opened over the years, others remain firmly bolted. Black Americans still have the lowest incomes, the highest rates of unemployment and the mass incarceration of young black men AND women has been convincingly referred to as The New Jim Crow. Black Americans are by far the largest victims of hate crimes and, sadly, these crimes are often committed by the very people meant to protect the nation’s citizens from crime – the police.
Unfair treatment of African Americans, police brutality and racial profiling, are at the forefront of Fruitvale Station, a piercingly touching film by debut filmmaker Ryan Coogler. Based on the true story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and “feels something in the air”. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to work on his new year’s resolutions: being a better son to his mother (Octavia Spencer); being a better partner to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and father to Tatiana (Ariana Neal), their four year-old daughter. The film unfolds in the brilliant exploration of Grant’s relationships with these three women in particular but also with his crossing paths with friends and strangers, and the tragic turn of events that New Year’s Eve in the Bay Area.
Fruitvale Station is an important film about the confrontation of living in a race- and class divided society. But more than that, it does what Twelve Years A Slave, in my view, intended but failed to do: it connects the dots between the still unreckoned with, deep relationship between slavery and the modern day cultural paradigm of white-supremacist Americo-capitalism.
It does so, not by politicising Oscar Grant, but by humanising him. Grant’s full humanity – his struggles, personal conflicts, hopes, dreams, goals – brings the reality of discrimination to the screen. In so doing, the film contributes in ‘bending the arc toward justice’, as Martin Luther King might say. And as King indeed did say (in that same speech): “Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. We are on the move now […]The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now.”
Fruitvale Station premieres in the UK tomorrow (6 June) and I warmly recommend it.
Have you seen it? Are you planning to? Please share your thoughts below.
Mama Elsie says
I have seen this moving, honest, tragic film and felt the impending doom of this young man’s life from the outset. Yet I sat praying that his efforts would come to fruition (excuse pun) throughout. It raises the issue of family, race, police brutality, money, relationships alongside the personal struggle of a man trying to do the right thing. The emotional roller coaster I felt whilst watching this ranged from anger to frustration to sorrow. But I would hate for people not to watch it – these stories need to be heard and to consider the implications and consequences of an individual’s actions on a community.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree – the film raises a number of important issues in a captivating (and emotional) way, and everyone should see it.
Kuukua Y says
This is a great summary of the idea behind the film. How does it differ from 12 Years?
Hi! Thanks for reading. 12 Years was a brilliant film in many ways but it didn’t manage to humanise the black characters. McQueen’s Solomon Northup is righteous to an irritating extent. While what makes Cooglar’s Oscar Grant so rounded is his unrighteousness and that in return reveals the inhumanity of racism and slavery. Have you seen both? What did you think?
I’m gutted I dodn’t go to see this movie now. We published the press release when it premiered but I just never cam around to watching it. I sort of guessed the gist of it would be as you’ve summarised from the synopsis and even though I didn’t get to see it…I could feel the authenticity of it.
Hi Fadekemi, thanks for reading. I’ve seen that it’s available on dvd now, you should definitely catch it if you can. Terrific film.