Fruitvale Station and Oscar Grant’s Last 24 Hours
While it will never be known what 22-year-old Oscar Grant was thinking when a Bay Area Rail Transit (BART) police officer gunned him down on New Year’s Day in 2009, the 2014 film Fruitvale Station offers a glimpse of what Grant’s last day on Earth had been like.
To recreate Grant’s final 24 hours as faithfully as possible, director Ryan Coogler interviewed everyone who interacted with Grant on December 31, 2008, from his family members to his friends. Together with legal documents and cellphone records, Coogler was able to create a pretty detailed picture of the events of Grant’s last day of life, up until a BART police offer ultimately shoots Grant in the back.
Fruitvale Station made its debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for US dramatic film. The film also won the Best First Film award in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Upon its commercial release in 2013, Fruitvale Station won even more accolades and awards.
Coogler’s vision for Fruitvale Station
Director Ryan Coogler heard about the shooting of Oscar Grant on the day it happened. He had a friend who had been on the BART that night, and his friend had called to tell him that the train had gotten stopped because somebody might have gotten shot. Neither of them thought much about it until it came out on the news next day, when cellphone video footage was released.
Coogler thought about Grant again when he was considering which subject to pick for his first feature at film school. He had been emotionally moved by the footage of Grant’s shooting, and he “couldn’t help but personalize it.”
“I imagined myself in that situation, and that’s when you really get affected by something, and that’s when I started to think about how the media was covering the situation, and how Oscar was portrayed afterwards. People kind of took sides, and nobody was really talking about who he was as a person,” says Coogler.
Through a mutual friend, Coogler was able to meet John Burris, the Grant family’s attorney. He worked closely with Burris to learn more about the case, and, eventually, he worked closely with the Grant family.
When Coogler first met the Grant family, they were still dealing with the civil trial. The family never really opened up to him until they struck a deal with the production company Significant Productions. Once Coogler and the Grant family started talking, Grant was able to get enough insight and information on Oscar and his family to start writing the script.
Production for Fruitvale Station
Owned by Forest Whitaker, the production company Significant Productions came into the picture in January 2011. The company was looking for young filmmakers, and Coogler was able to get in touch with the company’s Head of Production and show her his projects. After meeting with Coogler shortly after, Whitaker himself decided to support Fruitvale Station. The Feature Film Program and the San Francisco Film Society provided further funding for the film.
For the role of Oscar Grant, Coogler had Michael B. Jordan in mind even before he started writing the script. Jordan and Octavia Spencer, who played Oscar Grant’s mother, joined the cast in April 2012. Spencer also participated in funding the film, along with The Help author Kathryn Stockett.
Coogler’s script was relatively loose, so Jordan, Spencer, and the other actors had a little bit of freedom when it came to acting out the scenes. The dinner scene, for instance, was almost completely improvised; the actors had spent time with the Grant family, too, so they could get a better feel of their characters. This lent Fruitvale Station a more authentic feel.
At first, Coogler was adamant that he wasn’t going to include the real video footage in the film. Ultimately, however, he decided to use the video as the film’s opener, because so many people hadn’t seen the footage of Grant being shot by BART police, much less know who Oscar Grant had been at all. And so the first thing that viewers of Fruitvale Station see is the grainy images of that night Grant was shot on the station platform.
By putting the actual footage at the beginning of the film, Coogler also hopes that viewers will feel differently about the shooting the second time they see it, at the end of the film.
“The first time the audience sees it they should be shocked, and that’s kind of it. Shocked that this cop just stood over and shot this dude, but you don’t know who this dude is, you don’t know his name, you don’t really care about him. … By the end of the film not only do you know who Oscar is, but you know who the people are who are counting on him, so when you see it happen again it feels completely different. You’re thinking about the ramifications of it, you’re thinking about his daughter and his girl and his mom, who are gonna have to deal with this forever,” says Coogler.