Choices. Interesting word. Many spiritualists state we don’t have choices, that all decisions are already made. The choice between having sex or throwing myself off the Golden Gate Bridge is a no brainer. I get that. My friends and I had the choice of watching Two Guns or Fruitvale Station. Another no brainer. Here's one. What would you do: sell dope when you have no money with bills looming over you, or throw the dope away? That is what the lead character Oscar Grant III had to make in the true story, Fruitvale Station.
I wanted to watch it because I ride the Bay Area Rail Transit—BART—when I go to the office and pass by Fruitvale station each time. And I visit my mom once a week in Oakland and often find myself in an Oscar Grant protest. When the incident happened, the streets of Oakland were covered in flyers, proclaiming the injustice. In the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered about the events that happened on New Year’s Day, 2009. And from the reviews that I’ve read about the film, there were some artistic license that were taken, but does that matter?
Ryan Coogler’s film does something special. Most non-Blacks have no idea how much racism Blacks endure. Being an Asian man, I go through my own stereotypes. People think I have a small penis, I drive badly, own my own laundry business, am good at mathematics (which explains why I’m a writer), am really bad with women, drive riced up cars, and am into really kinky sex. OK. Some of that stuff is true. I do do my own laundry and used to drive a fast and furious Civic.
There’s a long running science exhibit in San Francisco called The Exploratorium. It’s an amazing place that makes science palatable for us layman, allowing us to touch and work the experiments in each exhibit. There are many social experiments that reveal certain truths about human nature. In one spot, the directions state to look up at a point in the ceiling and wait to see how many others follow, looking for that elusive spot. I fell for it. Another exhibit called the Question Bridge talked about the Black experience, produced by Delroy Lindo. There are several screens showing Black Americans asking each other questions regarding their treatment in America. For example, doctors treat them like low class citizens compared to non-Blacks, making it difficult to get good medical care. That shocked me. What was cool about the Question Bridge was the diversity of thought, breaking the traditional views fed to us by the media.
All of this revealed how little I knew about the Black experience. Like the Question Bridge, Fruitvale breaks down that barrier and gives us a slice of Oscar Grant’s life, be it his last day, which only made the normal activities of spending time with his daughter, his girlfriend and family, calling his mother to wish her a happy birthday, driving around making plans to go to the City—San Francisco—for New Year’s Eve, dealing with the mounting bills, and making future plans that will never come to fruition all the more poignant. We all can relate to this as our lives are filled with ups and downs, mundane activies, and moments of contemplation of choices.
On the flip side, we non-police don’t know what’s it like to be an enforcer of the law. Imagine the amount of shit they take on a daily basis, the bullshit they have to sift through, and red tape that sometimes hinders justice that plays on the ego. Now imagine what it’s like to patrol BART on New Year’s Eve. I’ve gone to the City to watch the fireworks off the piers, and the streets are literally packed like sardines, hundreds of thousands of non-City folk going to one spot, most taking BART because alcohol is usually involved. In reality, if we wanted to take on the cops on that night, we’d win hands down. That’s reality. That's the pressure those cops are under.
What's awesome about Coogler's film is the portrayal of Grant in all his colors: his loving side, his disloyalty to his girlfriend who’s also the mother of their daughter, his close relationship with his mother, his generosity to strangers, his violent nature during his time spent in and out of jail, it’s unflinching. But Coogler doesn’t demonize the cops either, a natural and easy cliché. Like I said, Coogler just gives us a slice of Grant’s life, his struggle with the choice of making a better life versus taking the easy way out of dealing drugs, which is what had gotten him in trouble in the first place.
It’s also a rare film because it made me think. I’ve been inundated with what the Black experience is through the media, that in some way I’ve forgotten that a lot of it is straight up bullshit. We forget that we are all human. We are all innately equal, that our names, our net worth, our titles, our gender, does not make any one of us more valuable as a human being, that being human makes us all equal. To think that what clothes us makes us more important as compared to others would put us in the same category as racists.
Now that doesn’t mean we have to be colorblind. That term never made sense to me. What makes us special is our differences, our individuality, making each and everyone one of us perfect in our own way. To try to follow one single ideal is like trying to say that one ethnic background is better than another. That is complete bullshit. I’ve tried to show this in my books, it’s a subplot that is buried deep in the characters’ perception of each other, hoping that somehow it’ll sink into the reader’s subconscious. But this is not FRUITVALE’s approach. It’s an in your face narrative without blaring it as such.