Friday, June 21, 2013

Oscar Grant's Story Told In 'Fruitvale Station'

MICHAEL B. JORDAN is Oscar Grant and  
AHNA O'REILLY plays his daughter in Fruitvale Station

By Darlene Donloe

On New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man, was shot and killed in cold blood by a BART officer at the Fruitvale Station in the Bay Area.  The tragedy not only shook Northern California, it also started a whole new conversation about race, racial profiling and the relationship between Blacks and law enforcement.

The story of Oscar Grant and his tragic death is told in Ryan Coogler’s compelling film aptly named Fruitvale Station. It’s set for release July 12.

Coogler chooses to tell Grant’s story by focusing on the last 24 hours of his life. Those 24 hours would prove to be significant and life-changing.  Michael B. Jordan plays Grant, who had months earlier been released from prison, had reportedly made it up in his mind to turn his life around. He wanted to be a better son to his mother (played by Octavia Spencer) whose birthday falls on New Year’s Eve. He also wanted to be a better partner to his girlfriend Sophia (played by Melonie Diaz) and their daughter Tatiana (played by Ariana Neal).

Coogler has assembled a first rate cast that delivers  emotionally charged performances.

I recently caught up with Michael B. Jordan and asked him about making the film.

Q: Were you aware of Oscar Grant’s story before you approached to play the role?

MBJ:  Yes. In 2009, I was sitting in my apartment watching it again and again and again trying to find some reason behind it. I had all this energy. I was trying to figure out what could I change. Four years later I’m approached to play the role. It’s an opportunity to express myself.

Q: How did you go about developing the role?

MBJ: I didn’t have the luxury of talking to him or getting to know him. I really didn’t know my approach. I went about meeting his family, daughter, Sophina, his mom and his friends.

Q: What did you discover about Oscar?

MBJ:  There are different versions of Oscar. I took pieces of everything and layered up. I actually began to see similarities in myself and Oscar. 

Q: Lets talk more about that later. How did you decompress from playing such an emotional role?

MBJ: Just time. I was depressed and emotionally drained. I think we finished in July and I didn’t really come back around until like November. I had been living with him for  so long.  It feels like I know him.

plays Oscar Grant's mother

Q: Was this your most challenging role to date?

MBJ: I had never been into it that long before. You do television show and you’re in and out. This was my first time doing a role for an extended period of time.

Q: What did you think of the finished product?

MBJ: I was annoyed because I’m up there all the time. I’m on screen so much. It was obnoxious. After the film is done, it’s not for me anymore.

Q: What do you hope people get from the film?

MBJ:  Don’t be so quick to judge somebody.

Q: Have you had your own experience with law enforcement?

MBJ: Look, I’m from New Jersey. I’ve had my experience with police. I was pulled over going to the airport for speeding.  I pulled over. He said roll down the window. He told me step out of the car. I was going for the least resistance.  I gave him all the paper work. I told him I had a flight and to give me ticket and let me go. He asked me what time my flight was.  He ended up holding me up for 40 minutes. There was no ticket. When you have some of those incidents, you start to form an opinion.
Q:  What did you learn about Oscar?

MBJ: Oscar was a product of his environment. I learned that people are quick to put you in a box.

Q: What did you learn about Oscar that we as an audience – don’t know?

MBJ: I want to keep that. He’s a complex guy.

Q: The scene on the BART platform was so disturbing.

MBJ: It was emotional. We actually shot over the bullet holes in the ground. They never fixed it. It was intense. I actually laid right where he died.

 Oscar Grant and his friends are confronted by BART officers

Fruitvale Station is the winner of both the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Fruitvale Station, directed and written by Ryan Coogler,  stars Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer,  Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray and Ahna O’Reilly.

It’s produced by Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi; executive produced by Michael Y. Chow.

Fruitvale Station (Weinstein Company), Running time 84 minutes. 

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (OK) and E (excellent), Fruitvale Station gets an E (excellent).

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