There’s no excuse for not seeing Fruitvale Station. But some black folks, perhaps people you know and love, may be using Trayvon Martin as one.
Zimmerman’s defense argued he shot and killed the 17-year-old black teen in self defense but the case’s conclusion has left many people of color feeling bewildered, angry or just jaded.
A new NBC poll shows a growing dissatisfaction among African-Americans with the direction of the country, the performance of the president and the reliability of our justice system.
While it would be simplistic to attribute these negative numbers entirely with the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, its conclusion and aftermath have undoubtedly cast a shadow over many black psyches.
Opening at an auspicious time
It is in this harsh climate that the acclaimed film Fruitvale Station enters the fray.
For those who may not know, the movie documents that last 24 hours in the life of Oscar Grant, another black youth whose tragic death recently galvanized a community.
Grant was shot and killed on New Year’s Day 2009 by a BART officer in Oakland, who claimed that he mistook his firearm for a taser. His conviction for involuntary manslaughter instead of murder led to violent riots and protests in the Bay Area and to this day Grant remains a symbol for anti-police brutality activists.
The film does not try to make Grant out to be a saint, and that is part of its brilliance. Over a naturalistic 9o minutes, audiences see a convincing portrait of a flawed but decent man — who struggles with his obligations and his temptations. When the story reaches its inevitable tragic conclusion the emotional effect is overwhelming, in the best way.
Fruitvale Station, which was impressively written and directed by the 27-year-old Ryan Coogler (an African-American), does what we often wish so-called “black films” would do. It provides a realistic, honest and sympathetic glimpse of what the black experience is for so many of us and it deserves all the praise being heaped upon it for its unflinching intensity and heartfelt emotions.
The movie we’ve been waiting for
Still, some may argue that in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict that this film may be too hard to handle. You may have heard someone close to make that case that they won’t support the movie because it hits to close to home.
This is precisely why you should see this movie. See it now, not later, and take a friend while you’re at it.
For far too long, movies, media, even music, make young dead black boys an afterthought. They are as undefined as the ubiquitous mugshot of the unidentified black male suspect seemingly wanted for every neighborhood crime. Devoid of a family, a history or a voice, these individuals are easy to ignore and dismiss.
Fruitvale Station is a game-changer because it succeeds in making you care about someone who for too many Americans exists on the margins of society. And thanks to the breakthrough, Oscar-worthy performance of Michael B. Jordan as Grant, you would have to be missing a piece of your soul not to be emotionally invested in his fate by the conclusion of this film.
As film fans, black audiences have been clamoring for this kind of film for decades. We’ve lamented the overheated ignorance of Tyler Perry’s work and the polemical self-indulgence of Spike Lee’s worst films. We’ve longed for something that rings true. Fruitvale Station does.
Without the attendance of African-American audiences, the financial prospects for a film such as this — about black people, made by a black person — are dim.
Must-see in the wake of Trayvon Martin
And, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the film just resonates that much more.
It could very well force audiences with preconceived notions and biases about Martin to at least reconsider their notions of what led to his death, or at the very least convince them to sympathize with the late teen’s parents.
And for those who found the verdict unjust, the movie is a profound reminder that the case is just one in a long struggle against injustice and that we must continue to raise awareness about these young men’s lives so they don’t become forgotten as just another statistic.
Since this film will surely be in the conversation later this year when awards seasons kicks in, it will help keep the dialogue going about gun violence in our communities long after the mainstream media has tried to move on (and some would argue it already has).
For young people, the movie can and will serve as a cautionary tale. For older folks, the movie could serve as a sobering introduction to a brave new world.
Movies can be and often are escapism, but they can also hold a mirror up to our lives and help us reflect on our society. If you think the movie will make you angry or sad, good — great art should provoke these kinds of emotions from its viewer.
Frutivale Station is arguably the most powerful African-American movie of the last 10 years and it would be a shame to miss it just because the subject matter is challenging.
Follow Adam Howard on Twitter at @at_howard