“Fruitvale Station” is artistically and socially brilliant

Rarely is a movie so powerful that you want to scream and cry at the same time. Yet there are moments in “Fruitvale Station” that are as tender as they are telling.

Like watching Oscar Grant (played deftly by Michael B. Jordan) and his beautiful daughter (Ariana Neal) share a secret about a snack.Or the time Oscar tells his sister he will pick up a birthday card for their mother, then selects a card he knows his mother won’t like and signs his sister’s name.

Oscar is at his best when he’s with his family: older men who are role models; a sweet grandmother who shares her recipe for fried fish with someone Oscar has just met; and a protective mother who suggests her son take the train instead of driving to see New Year’s Eve fireworks in San Francisco. 

“Fruitvale Station” opens nationwide on Friday. It is based on the true story of Oscar Grant III, who was shot to death on New Year’s Day in 2009 by a Bay area transit officer who said he mistakenly pulled his gun instead of his Taser. The officer was detaining Grant and three friends after they got into a fight on the train. Make sure to stay through the end of the movie to see the final outcome. I won’t spoil it here.

To be sure, Oscar Grant has some major “failure to launch” issues. At 22, he is late to work so many times he is fired. He has a child and girlfriend he can barely support so he sometimes sells marijuana. He lies to family members and admits to his longtime girlfriend (after being caught) that he’s cheated on her.

The movie takes us through the last day of his life, with flashbacks that show a stint in jail and a dramatic scene between he and his mother, played brilliantly by Academy award winner Octavia Spencer, the defiant maid in the movie, “The Help.”

It’s easy to see how “Fruitvale Station” won the grand jury prize at Sundance Film Festival. The critically acclaimed Indie movie made its Atlanta debut Friday to crowded theaters. With the wounds of the George Zimmerman trial still fresh, the timing couldn’t be better for the production company.

The real gift of “Fruitvale Station” comes from its young, African-American writer and director. Raised in the Bay area, Ryan Coogler tells the powerful story from the perspective of its protagonist and his family. That’s where “Fruitvale Station” excels where other movies fail, think “The Help” which tells the story of black maids through the perspective of a young woman of privilege and “Mississippi Burning,” told from the view of the prosecuting attorney and FBI agent, but based on the real life story of the Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, three young Civil Rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964.

“Fruitvale Station” reminds us there are thousands of Oscar Grants out there who are marginalized by society. They are smart, funny and loved dearly by their children, parents, siblings and friends. Despite their flaws, they have praying parents and grandparents who never give up on them.

They, like Oscar Grant, don’t deserve to die. #IamFruitvaleStation.

To learn more about the movie, go to: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-weinstein-co-uses-social-justice-campaign-to-promote-fruitvale-station-20130717,0,3544023.story

To see the “Fruitvale Station” trailer go to: http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/fruitvale/trailers/

To read more about Ryan Coogler, go to: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-morrison-ryan-coogler-fruitvale-20130717,0,5615209.column

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