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As calls for justice abound in the Trayvon Martin case, newly minted filmmaker Ryan Coogler reminds the nation of another unarmed and slain victim in “Fruitvale Station” released in theaters July 12. “Fruitvale” tells the story of Oscar Grant, killed at age 22 by a Northern California transit officer in 2009. Actor Michael B. Jordan (“Friday Night Lights,” “The Wire), and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) are among the cast members who deftly bring Grant’s last 24 hours to life.
The movie begins with real live footage of the shooting, which took place New Year’s day on the Fruitvale station platform in Oakland. As the footage segues into scene one, the audience sees a conflicted young man, who loves his mother, his girlfriend, his young daughter and even a stray dog that was hit by a car. Coogler is mindful to show Grant’s other side however, one that is unfaithful to his girlfriend, a liar and a drug dealer who’s been on the wrong side of the law more times than his loved ones would have liked to deal with.
Grant is trying his best to be a stand up guy, spending much of his last day alive shopping for his mother’s birthday dinner, trying to get his job back and debating whether he should sell a bag of weed to get money. He opts out in the end, remembering a previous time in prison and not wanting to put his family through the misery of his absence again. By nightfall, after sharing his mother’s birthday dinner with family, Grant and his girlfriend Sophina (played by Melanie Diaz) leave to drop their daughter (Ariana Neal) off to a babysitter before heading out to the Embarcadero in San Francisco to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks. The couple along with some other friends take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) at the behest of his mother who didn’t want them “drinking and driving.”
Coogler’s portrayal of what happens next is typical action movie fare, yet it manages to still be thought provoking and heart wrenching. Diaz’s emotions are palpable and Jordan is able to sum up the entire Grant tragedy with his last line, “you shot me…” The real star however, was Spencer who gives a seamless performance as Grant’s patient, long suffering real life mother Wanda Johnson.