As people continue to process George Zimmerman’s “Not Guilty” verdict, Fruitvale Station, written and directed by Ryan Coogler, is making its rounds, reminding many that Trayvon Martin’s senseless murder is unfortunately not an isolated incident. New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant was shot in the back on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) platform at Fruitvale Station by a BART officer and died later that morning.
Instead of showing protests and the trial, however, Coogler has taken it back to the very essence of Oscar Grant’s last day on this earth, retracing not just his steps, but breathing life and soul beyond the headlines or the statistics. Because Fruitvale Station wowed at Sundance, Cannes and opened, some would say divinely, on the same weekend as the Zimmerman verdict was handed down, it has generated even more attention, adding even more flame to its already blazing Oscar buzz.
During a promotional stop in Atlanta, as the film expanded beyond New York, L.A. and the Bay Area, to six more cities July 19 before going wide on July 26, Coogler spoke to UPTOWN one on one about Oscar, Trayvon and making Fruitvale Station.
In the wake of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, do you people who see Fruitvale Station will compare Trayvon and Oscar? And what are your feelings about Trayvon in relation to Oscar?
I think people can draw parallels. For me the biggest tragedy in Oscar’s situation is that Oscar’s life is lost and that’s the same way I feel about this situation. The most devastating thing is that this kid’s life is cut short unnecessarily. For me, it’s that mass loss of life that’s happening among young African American males that our attention should be focused on in trying to bring it to an end. It’s happening with black-on-black crime, officer-involved shootings and situations like [Trayvon’s]. I pray for all those families.
When you make a film, what is your personal mission?
I’m just trying to bring audiences closer together. Tell a story from the inside out as much as possible. Never could I have imagined that we would be promoting the film while that trial was going on, let along releasing it when the verdict was happening [because] we made it before Trayvon was killed.
How did having Forest Whitaker’s backing empower you?
Having him gave me so much more credibility when it came time to cast the film, when it came down to approach the family. Aside from he’s an incredible artist but an incredible person, him being there when it came time [to make] decisions and him being able to weigh in and provide insider advice was invaluable.
People from the Bay Area who have seen Fruitvale comment on how authentic it is, was this intentional on your part?
The Bay Area has a very strong culture and [Oscar] was born and raised there; born in Oakland and raised in Hayward. It was a very much a part of who he was and how he interacted. The Bay Area culture is a very diverse culture. It’s an optimistic culture too. Even though we got our issues and it’s a very dangerous place. It’s a place where people will walk up to you and talk to you if they don’t know you. It’s kind of how it is so I definitely wanted to capture that because I think people are a product of their environment . . . It’s a great place but it’s far from perfect. Like human beings.