In the opening sequences using grainy footage from onlookers cellphones we see how this story is going to end. Not long after 2009 has just been welcomed in by this happy boisterous New Year crowd travelling on the BART train in Oakland, California when Oscar Grant, a 22 year old African-American is shot in the back by a white Transit Police Officer.
Oscar and his friends had been hauled off the train at Fruitvale Station as suspects in a fight that had just occurred, the fact that the men who had antagonised them were all white and were not pursued by the angry and aggressive police presence was no accident.
In this stunningly powerful narrative the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III is sadly a very true fact. What follows next is a dramatisation of what Oscar was up to the day he was killed.
He was apparently no saint, but after a short time behind bars for dealing in marijuana, he was determined to make a go of things.When he loses his grocery store job and is almost desperate enough to start selling pot again, he throws away his stash as he knows that another arrest would take him away from his girlfriend and young daughter who is totally devoted too. It is in fact the women in his life, including his church-going mother, that are his driving force but in his determination to be the ‘man’ of the family he hides his financial struggles from them all behind a web of lies.
It is a totally compelling movie on every level and even more so when you appreciate that this is the debut of writer/director Ryan Coogler, a 27 year old African-American from Oakland fresh out of Film School.
What Coogler does so brilliantly is show that behind the statistic of another black man needlessly killed by an undisciplined white authority figure, that this was a very real person just at the start of what should have been a long happy life. There is plenty of emotion in his take on events, and very noticeably, no rage at all.
Michael B Jordan (The Wire) turns in a terrifically sensitive portrayal as the good-natured Oscar, Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind) is his supportive girlfriend Sophina, and in a powerhouse performance Octavia Spencer as Mum proves that her Oscar win last year (The Help) was no fluke. And credit to Forest Whittaker for taking this project on and producing it.
In the light of the aftermath of the recent Trayvon Martin killing, this heartbreaking story has even more resonance now. The saddest aspect of all is that we know that many more young men will still needlessly lose their lives simply because of the color of their skin.
Winner of Awards at both the Sundance & Cannes Film Festivals, this is totally unmissable, and easily one of the best ‘real