“Fruitvale Station”: Watch, Absorb and Learn
Who’s News is inviting top journalists and journalism educators to share their thoughts on inclusion in the news. Here, public radio journalist Cheryl Devall comments on “Fruitvale Station,” a film that offers journalists much to contemplate.
It took long enough, but I finally did it. My criteria for seeing “Fruitvale Station” were pretty specific, so I didn’t rush out the weekend it opened.
I wanted to enter and leave the theater in broad daylight – a late night screening would inch too close to bedtime and nightmares. No spoiler alert needed here: The film begins with mobile phone footage of the true nightmare, the shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III at an Oakland, Calif., BART station by a transit cop. The rest of the events early on New Year’s Day 2009 unfold in flashbacks. These help to illuminate the human beings beyond the headlines and protests.
I didn’t want to go to the show hungry. This is not a popcorn movie. Truth is, I didn’t expect my mouth to water as the people in the movie dish up seafood gumbo the way my family also does on holidays.
The laughs, I wasn’t expecting. So much of the banter between Oscar and the people in his circle is just plain funny. So many of the details are gut-level familiar. Shot on location in Oakland, the independent film conveys the texture of African American and Latino neighborhoods everywhere – the street corners crammed with fast-food joints and check-cashing outlets, the modest houses with trim lawns on the outside and well-worn recliners on the inside, the mismatched paint on the walls of low-rent apartments.
“Fruitvale Station,” a Sundance Festival favorite, brought to mind another deliberately paced slice of life from an earlier era, “Nothing But A Man.”
In that low-budget feature from1964, the protagonist wanders from a menial job on a railroad work crew through a succession of situations and relationships trying to establish his place in the world. Neither film offers direct comment on the larger national context – the civil rights revolution in one case, the dawn of the Obama era in the other – yet each drives home its points in powerfully understated ways.
That’s why I wanted to see the newer movie in my own neighborhood, at the theater formerly known as the Magic Johnson multiplex.
Not only because it’s within walking distance from my place. Every show in this theater happens in Sensurround. Audiences talk back to the screen, and during “Fruitvale Station” they weighed in with knowing commentary from beginning to end. Especially the end. Sobs and catcalls punctuated the epilogue text, and just before the credits rolled, somebody proclaimed, “This ain’t through.”
The author is a veteran public radio journalist who lives in Los Angeles.
Resources for further exploration: