'Fruitvale Station': Portrait of a Life Cut Short

A makeshift memorial at the Fruitvale BART Station (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A makeshift memorial at the Fruitvale BART Station (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Fruitvale Station, a new film that reconstructs the last 24 hours of the life of Oscar Grant III — an unarmed black man who was gunned down by a white police officer on a subway platform in 2009 in Oakland, Calif. — is a trenchant examination of police brutality against people of color in the U.S., Julianne Hing writes at Colorlines. It's also a sad reminder of just how far we have to go.

When audiences see actor Michael B. Jordan get pulled off the BART train in "Fruitvale Station," they'll see the dramatized last moments of Oscar Grant's life, filmed at the actual station where BART police officer Johannes Mehserle killed him on New Year's Eve 2009. The feature film premieres nationally on July 12 to plenty of early buzz and rave reviews for director Ryan Coogler's debut effort, and for performances from actors like Jordan and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, who plays Grant's mother. But for many in the Bay Area who lived through Grant's death and the national outrage that followed, the real-life sets will be just as arresting. 

Fruitvale Station became a landmark in the community almost immediately after Mehserle gunned Grant down there. Situated in the middle of a bustling Latino immigrant neighborhood, Fruitvale is a popular starting point for protests and marches for a range of issues. But it will forever be tied to Grant's death. "Anyone in our community can point to other locations where somebody was killed or brutalized by the police," says Dereca Blackmon, an organizer and co-founder of the Coalition Against Police Executions, which was formed after Grant's death. "What Fruitvale actually memorializes is, 'Here is where a cop was actually caught and held accountable.'"

The film opens with the cell phone footage that lit up the Internet in the days after Grant was killed. Fruitvale's cement walls and faded beams are there in the grainy cell phone videos. So are the glass windows looking out onto the street below, turned into mirrors in the night; the staggered brown tile floors; the fluorescent lighting and cream interior walls of the BART train. Today many people wait for their trains exactly in the spot where Grant was killed. And that same cement wall and those same dark windows are there in the movie, when Grant and his friends and Mehserle are replaced by actors. 


Read Julianne Hing's entire piece at Colorlines.

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