The “Fruitvale” Moment

    Usually serious movies like Fruitvale Station are released in the fall or winter. People are back from their warm weather breaks, and are supposedly, in a more serious mind state now that they are free from buying amusement park snacks. Summer movies usually position themselves to take advantage of this levity, by releasing big budget films with lots of explosions, random nudity and simple to follow plot twists. The thought is that people are trying to enjoy their vacations and don’t want to think about their mounting credit card bills, moral ambiguity or international war efforts. This is why politicians trailing in the polls during the summer months, aren’t ever really out of it until after Labor Day. They save their best speeches, political ads and scandal leaks until people are ready to deal with the complexities of life.

    Earlier in the year when I heard that Fruitvale Station was wowing crowds at events like Sundance, I was pleased, and figured it would come out sometime around when the leaves change color. That’s the best plan of attack in order to position a movie for an Academy Award run. Had no idea that it was coming out in the summer until I saw the trailer on TV one day.

    The movie is exceedingly emotive, well-paced and checks all the requisite boxes a movie of this kind are supposed to check. Even though you know that the protagonist “Oz” (played by the talented Michael B. Jordan of The Wire & Friday Nights Lights fame) is not going to see the next sunrise, you’ll find yourself pulling for him to make it through anyway. Director Ryan Coogler should be proud of the way he told this story. For his efforts, the movie cracked last week’s Top 10 list, an accomplishment for any indie.

    The movie came out nationwide on July 26th, but had its NYC, LA and San Francisco release on the weekend of July 12th. On the same weekend that George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin. That the universe would allow these two moments in time to align in this way is at minimum, fascinating. It was both a reminder of America’s inequitable justice system and the differences in how news resonates.

    When Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man who was murdered by a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop on New Year’s Day 2009, first hit the news it sparked riots in the Bay Area. There were even a few nationwide rallies and well-written columns, so, yes, it was certainly “known.” It didn’t, however, hit with the asteroid blast of what happened with the Martin case.  

    I’m not going to compare the two tragedies, and attempt to say one is worse than the other. They are equally disgusting. I’m only trying to gauge why one story became famous enough to dominate an entire month’s worth of news coverage.

    Maybe it’s because Grant’s death was the result of a cop, and we’ve unfortunately, over the years, gotten used to this reality. Even if the officer’s claim of mistakenly grabbing a gun instead of a taser (I still don’t understand why using anything was necessary, since Grant was already laying face down on the ground) sounds ridiculous, we’ve seen this before. As hideous as it sounds, we as a society can comprehend this.

    But Martin’s murder by the hand of a hulking savage, bundled with the novelty of a strange law called “Stand Your Ground” that many of us weren’t initially aware of, was a shock to the system.

    Even though the conviction time was in many eyes insufficient, Grant’s murderer was convicted and sent to prison. The fact that Zimmerman got off only added to the infamy and notoriety. People brought up Emmett Till after all, a sure sign of the enormity of the moment. Grant’s case was much more underground and didn’t motivate the President to give an speech, didn’t spark conversations about the behavior or black America or start a discussion on the 21st Century racial responsibility of America at large.

    With Grant’s death all but forgotten, it makes the fact that Fruitvale Station got made in the first place even more impressive.  Without big stars (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is the movie’s biggest name and plays Grant’s mother in the film) most films such as this only exist on the periphery. They tend to preach to the converted, never having the eyes of those who need it the most, blinking at its giant screen.  I’ve spoken with people who not only haven’t seen the movie yet, but never even knew the movie was out. Do you think that if they make a movie on the life of Martin that would be the case?

    Fruitvale has momentum now, and even Academy Award talk. Plus, Grant’s father is considering suing the convicted police officer, so it’s likely we will continue to hear about this story. Serious summer movies be damned, its relevance should catapult it into serious ticket sales in the upcoming weeks. This is mandatory viewing for anyone who cares about America. Not black America, but everyone in this nation.

    For those wondering what the fuss is about, I implore them to attend their neighborhood multiplex. Don’t just watch it and walk out with a heavy heart and then go back to your normal routine. Overstand the bigger meaning and spread it amongst your loved ones.  Try something different this time. Then after that, talk to you co-workers or fellow church members. Listen to them. Ask them what you can do to help. Seize the moment that this movie has given us.