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Oakland Braces For Seeing Subway Shooting On The Big Screen

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
July 12, 2013

It’s not very often that Oakland, Calif. plays host to a movie opening. But there is plenty of anticipation for Fruitvale Station. It’s about the life and disturbing death of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man who was fatally shot in the back by a white transit police officer on New Year’s Day in 2009. That killing — and especially the explicit cellphone and video camera footage of the incident — touched off violent street protests.

The film portrays Grant as a troubled but charming and complex young man. It has won awards at Sundance and Cannes, and now much of Oakland is eager to see it.

Take Monique McNeil, a disabled fast food worker, who was on her way to catch a train at the Fruitvale station stop of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART).

“I believe that the movie is just to bring out justice so that people will see the side of the story of that young man that’s not here anymore. And see that that was a wrongful death,” she said.

Musician and chef Kenneth Lee said he plans to see the movie as soon as he can.

“You know it’s a sad situation, man, you know what I mean? I can’t believe that happened. That was real, live murder. We all seen it,” Lee said.

It seems like everyone here in Oakland has seen the grainy herky jerky video of Grant’s last moments. Two officers pin Grant down face-first to the platform. Then one of them shoots Grant in the back at point blank range.

Grant was killed by officer, Johannes Mehserle, who claimed to have been reaching for his Taser, not his handgun. He was eventually tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months of a two-year term.

But Mehserle’s name is never mentioned in the film. That’s because director Ryan Coogler insists that his film really isn’t about Grant’s death.

“I was interested in telling a story about relationships and about humanity,” Coogler said.

Coogler is an intense, soft-spoken man and Fruitvale Station is his first feature film. He said some people considered Grant a martyr and hero, a victim of police brutality. Others called him a thug who brought his own death upon himself by resisting the police. Coogler says both sides de-humanized Oscar Grant.

“What I was interested in was just telling a story of his relationships. Who this guy was to the people who knew him the best and the people who loved him the most, and the people he meant the world to. You know, and everybody — every human — being has those people,” he said.

In the film, you see Grant’s last day alive. He’s an unemployed father who deals drugs, but he’s desperately trying to straighten up his life because he’s also an ex-con. Grant is played by actor Michael B. Jordan. Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson is played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.

The unvarnished view of Grant may surprise some, but not his family, said Oscar Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson.

“So we’ve seen the movie now four times. It doesn’t get easier. And then to re-live that scene on the platform. It’s very painful,” Johnson said.

Johnson said they had been approached by several filmmakers who wanted to tell Oscar Grant’s story, but they were won over by Ryan Coogler who promised to deliver a complicated portrait of the young man. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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