Fruitvale Station

Rating: Octavia Spencer plays a broken hearted mother that every criminal defense attorney sees numerous times crying in a courtroom every day. They deserve better, and so do we.

Fruitvale StationFruitvale Station tells a complex, conflicting yet powerful story that most of us don’t want to hear, much less see. But in light of the recent verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, it will help to explain why the African-American community is so brutally appalled.

More to the point, our country has a long history of racial prejudice that exists to this very day. For most black citizens, the Stand Your Ground laws basically give armed white males the right to kill young black men for little more than having tattoos and wearing a hoodie. Do you really think that the legacy of Governors George Wallace and Lester Maddox have just suddenly disappeared with their passing?

In Fruitvale Station, Writer/Director Ryan Coogler brings to the big screen a true story that tells the tragic tale of the death of 22-year old Oscar Grant at the hands of white Oakland security officers in 2009. Returning home by train on New Year’s Eve that morning with friends, he is sucked into a confrontation with Hispanic gang members that results in his death at the hands of the police. In the process, his mother mourns, a fiancée collapses and his 5-year old daughter is left with no father.

Sure, there were mass protests in the Oakland/San Francisco area following Oscar’s death. Police officers were fired and one was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, eventually serving approximately 10 months in prison. And while the powers that be on the West Coast should be applauded for addressing a tragic racial problem that previously existed with their armed employees working with the rail lines, death continues to visit us daily in our national metropolitan neighborhoods.

Mr. Coogler has brought us a gem of a film that bears a bit of resemblance to last year’s The Beast of the Southern Wild. Both films bring us an inside look at the underbelly of our modern society where young black men turn to drugs, booze and gangs when life continually leaves them on the outside looking in. Having fled from our school systems as teenagers, what is really left for many of these guys like Oscar if the only way to make decent money is to sell illegal drugs?

Newcomer Michael B. Jordan is wonderful as Oscar, a young man trying to outrun his pent-up rage. He loves both his daughter and mother, but he lives in a constant state of frustration and disappointment given that he lacks fundamental access to meaningful employment.

While Melonie Diaz is excellent as the caring mother of Oscar’s young child, Octavia Spencer is the queen of this film, here playing a mother who fights as hard as she can for a son caught in no-man’s land. Ms. Spencer won an Oscar for her tremendous role in The Help (2011), and she brings unashamed strength to a mother who will always love her son regardless of his weaknesses.

What is so maddening about this moving film is that it exposes the cancer that is eating away at our urban culture. What good does it do if we champion charter schools and voucher programs that use taxpayers’ money to send kids to religious affiliated schools if we leave the Oscar Grants behind in the dust of our public system?

What sense does it make to send kids like Oscar home for the summer when that policy was based on the outdated theory that they were needed to work on our farms? By continuing to ignore this problem, many of these young boys have easy access to firearms as they learn the law of the streets. As with Oscar’s fiancée, many of the girls who drop out become pregnant, frequently more than once, adding another generation that simply will be left to sink or swim on their own.

Let me be clear that Oscar Grant is certainly no hero. Nonetheless, Fruitvale Station is a reminder that we should all shed a tear when we read that a new black kid has been found dead in the street.

Sure, we have a black president, but try to tell me that race is not playing a powerful role in opposing all of his proposals. After all, Jackie Robinson only desegregated baseball in 1947, Brown v. Board of Education only ended government sponsored segregation in 1954 and Rosa Parks was able to gain African-Americans access to front seats on the bus in the 1960’s. It’s time that we all join hands and dedicate ourselves to building a better future for our children.