Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant carrying his daughter Tatiana played by Ariana Neal.

Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant carrying his daughter Tatiana played by Ariana Neal.

By the time it had reached its climax, Ryan Coogler’s debut film Fruitvale Station had opened up every wound imaginable on every person inside of the theater I sat in.



And the absolute eerie sound of complete silence made nothing better.

For a while I looked over the girl seated next to me, at times wiping her eyes and muttering to me, “this is the most depressing thing ever.” The funny thing about it was that I had been uncomfortable inside of that theater from the moment that chilling YouTube footage of that night on New Years Day 2009 flashed upon the screen.

I had seen it before, in its rawness and the feeling returned all over again. A queasy pull that you can’t really shake but you stomach anyway. You try not to cry but you know something is ripping at you and all you can do is sit there and take it. I had covered the story all the way up to the verdict and still — the wound felt as fresh as it was four years ago.

Watching Fruitvale Station isn’t going to bring the real Oscar Grant back despite Michael B. Jordan’s otherwordly performance as the Bay Area native turned tragic figure of hope and dreams deferred. All Fruitvale accomplishes is an inner look into yourself — and how many stories of redemption you’ve either seen or faced yourself.

Jordan, the former star of The Wire as braided youth Wallace, Friday Night Lights and a chief character in the 2012 supernatural teen flick Chronicle plays Grant,  a man covered in tattoos representing his hood living with his girlfriend Sophina and his young daughter Tatiana. Not even minutes into the film she questions him about his infidelity, he swears it was only once and the consistency of his yo-yoing between doing dirt and being legal begins.

Coogler’s direction showcases Oakland, not in some cartoonish way but as a living breathing element. The dialect makes “breh” sound like the appropriate closer to every sentence, every song sounds straight from the region and almost makes it seem like its a set piece unto itself. Grant’s phone becomes a main focal point, his interactions with Tatiana almost making a man really think having a daughter would cool his heart from every problem the world has to offer. Everything is repped, hugged, touched and felt and Jordan’s eyes know this from the beginning. There’s moments of thought, charm and reflection tucked inside of Fruitvale’s brief 85-minute running time but in the end, all you can see is Grant finally getting somewhere — only for fate to cruelly twist things.

Fruitvale isn’t a film to cast Grant as an angel or a saint, rather a damaged man who at times let his temper get the best of him when he felt threatened. Jordan’s demeanor snatches time for a moment when he threatens his former boss to give him his job back, in between exhibiting a cool passion for helping people. Everything seemed lost for him or at least this characterization of him but even his good deeds, not matter how shitty they may sound like at least put him in a better situation.

Which brings me back to the uncomfortable thoughts and squirming at the climax of the movie, the absolutely heartbreaking final scene before things crawl to a pitch black and a theater feel more like a coffin. Grant’s story doesn’t differ much from mine, two men who’ve made plenty of dumb decisions but try to think their intentions were good.

To be personal, I know the feeling of disappointment from someone who thought you were smarter and better than your decision making. I sat in jail, five years ago, freezing for a few hours after thinking I was smarter than a situation, proving myself to be dumber than anything. I remember my father snapping inside of a lawyers office when everything really came out and how on a car ride home with snow falling on the roads he wouldn’t even look at me. Time passed, our relationship became stronger but he knows in the back of his mind that for all the good I can accomplish, my sins aren’t too far away either.

The same week I came back from the high of being in New Orleans for Essence Festival, I lost my uncle in a complete shock. A blood clot had travelled from his foot to his lungs, causing a heart attack. He had died four times technically, God brought him back four times but left him in a vegetative state the last time. During my low points I cleaned buildings with this man as a janitor and saw him enjoy conversation with people and a nightly bottle of wine. He saved me from going off the rails when my dad went into critical condition last August, telling me always “I’m doing a good job taking care of my family.” Dad got sick the same day as my uncle’s funeral and a woman at the hospital told me, “You’re being a good son right now.”

Just like he would say.

The weekend the film opened in wider release was the same weekend that America questioned itself once more about life and reaction to the idea of being threatened. We’re human — we don’t believe in lying down and taking something when we feel put into a position to be made foolish. Fruitvale may remain one of the year’s more breathtaking films not only because of its cast of characters or their depictions but for how it internalizes our own struggles on a daily basis.

And how uncomfortable it is at times to get through them.