A protest at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland. Flickr photo courtesy of Michael Mees.
Updated to add: Fruitvale just won both the Grand Jury Prize (“the big enchilada, as the announcer said) and the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic film at the Sundance Awards!
On Democracy Now this morning, Amy Goodman interviewed filmmaker Ryan Coogler about his debut film, Fruitvale, which tells the story of the murder of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer. The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Oscar and Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mother, Wanda, and was produced by Forest Whitaker, among others. The movie has been a standout at the Sundance Film Festival. It reportedly was the subject of a bidding war; distribution rights were acquired by the Weinstein Company, which means that it should be playing in a movie theater near you later this year.
The two short clips that Amy Goodman showed during the interview, along with Coogler’s description of what it was like to make this movie, left me in tears. It reminded me that Oscar’s death is still an open wound that will never heal until Oakland stops marginalizing and brutalizing and killing young men of color. I’ve written fairly extensively about Oscar and police brutality in Oakland. This is one of the first FDL diaries I ever wrote, in anticipation of the Mehserle verdict back in July 2010 (which would turn out to be involuntary manslaughter instead of murder). This diary was written a year ago, on the third anniversary of Oscar’s death.
Ryan Coogler, the filmmaker whose day job is counselor at a San Francisco juvenile detention center, was compelled to make this movie because in the cell phone videos of the murder, Oscar was the same age as Coogler and “looked like he could have been any one of us.” And because he was angry and frustrated; the killing of an unarmed black man by police was, unfortunately, nothing new to Coogler as an African-American resident of the East Bay. Fruitvale (named after the BART station where Oscar was killed) begins with those cell phone videos and then flashes back to what Oscar was doing earlier that day.
I’ve read a lot of reviews of the movie; some of them focus on the fact that Oscar is portrayed in such a positive light. For those of us who are Friday Night Lights fans, the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Oscar is genius. For me, he’s a good match for the Oscar Grant that I have concocted in my head. I didn’t know Oscar, and it’s tempting to turn Oscar into some larger-than-life person. He wasn’t. But he was loved by his family and friends. He was Tatiana’s dad and Wanda’s son and Uncle Bobby’s nephew—we do know Oscar’s family now, because they have become tireless advocates for justice, not just for Oscar but for every victim of police brutality. Oscar was a young man who was trying to make the most of a hard day that New Year’s Eve and he did not deserve to be shot in the back on that cold fucking BART platform by a monster like Mehserle. If this movie does nothing else, perhaps it will help people to see that the cops are not always right, or righteous, and that until we really hold them accountable for these young lives they’ve taken, they’ll keep shooting first and asking questions later, as they did with Oscar and as they did in the case of Alan Blueford.
Unfortunately, the Oakland Police Department doesn’t seem to have any intention of changing its ways. Alan Blueford’s father, Adam, was back in front of the Oakland City Council this past Tuesday. Mr. Blueford was speaking out against the hiring of superpig and global security mogul William Bratton by OPD as part of a $250,000 consulting package. Bratton is worthy of a whole ‘nother diary, but suffice it to say that the last thing Oakland needs is more outsiders encouraging their cops to Stop & Frisk.
Police Chief Howard Jordan promised that racial profiling would not be a part of OPD policy. Nobody believed him, least of all OO livestreamer Bella Eiko/Jessica Hollie (below), who was another of the more than 200 people who addressed the City Council about Bratton during that marathon session on Tuesday. At 2 AM, the council voted 7-1 in favor of hiring Bratton. (The video that Jessica is referring to but that never makes it onscreen at the meeting is this one.)