One of the things I’m tired of hearing about George Floyd is when people keep bringing up the fact that he had a criminal record. As if that, in some way, makes his death acceptable. That the fact that he was once in prison makes it okay that a police officer put his knee on George’s kneck for almost 8 minutes. Why does it matter who George was or what he was doing at the time? Nothing should be able to justify the death of a man regardless of what they’ve done. And what about all of those white men who were arrested for mass shootings? How many of them are still alive in prison despite murdering people? I mean Nikolas Cruz shot 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. He was arrested “without incident”. Without incident? All George Floyd was arrested for was allegedly using a counterfeit $20 note. Allegedly. And he was killed. A 19-year-old white kid shot 17 other kids and was arrested “without incident”. And people still don’t think systemic racism exists? It’s bullshit.
But why am I bringing this up before my review? Well, after I watched Fruitvale Station this week, I read some of the reviews that came out when it was released. One of them, published in the New York Post, made great pains to point out that Oscar Grant, a young man killed by a police officer in 2009, had been arrested for possession of a gun. The writer, Kyle Smith, went on to further critique the film in Forbes for being liberal with the truth and trying to make Grant seem like a saint. He asks what the director, Ryan Coogler, was trying to do by omitting details of the case or by adding fictional scenes to the narrative. I think the real question is why is Kyle Smith so offended by someone wanting to tell this story?
I don’t know anything about Smith but it does raise some flags that this film got under his skin so much. One of the scenes that irritated him so much was the one where Oscar (brilliantly played by Michael B. Jordan) comes to the aid of a dog hit by a car. It didn’t actually happen and that bothers Smith. He believes Coogler is trying to manipulate his audience into sanctifying Grant. What it actually does is create an interesting and vivid comparison to the dog and Black people in America. Is it subtle? No, but does it work? Yes. Smith A second feature of the film that Smith highlights, is a moment when Oscar makes the decision to go straight. He is seen dumping a bad of weed that he was intending to sell after losing his job. Oscar, who we knew had previously been in prison, decides that his girlfriend and daughter are too important to risk going back. This is another fiction and Smith believes it is also manipulative. Why, he asks, should we believe that, had he not been killed, Grant would have become a good man?
Obviously, the implication of this second argument is that Smith doesn’t believe a man like Grant could change. He was Black, poor, and had run-ins with the law. How could he possibly not turn to crime? Smith’s assessment of this film and this young man were horrendous. Even if Grant had been planning on committing some sort of crime, he didn’t deserve to be killed. He didn’t deserve to spend the early hours of New Year’s Day lying face down on a train platform with a bullet in his back. Yet Smith, and I imagine many others, find the film that tells his story offensive. I mean in Smith’s own words “the only remarkable aspect of Grant’s life was its end”. Why is it that so many people are still so up in arms about Black stories being told? Why shouldn’t this man be remembered? He didn’t get to live his life. He never got to reach his potential. Why not let his story live on in the hearts of more than just his family?
Yeah, this film might take a few liberties with the truth but can you show me a Hollywood film based on real-life events that doesn’t? I mean was Smith offended by how much the Oscar-winning Bohemian Rhapsody covered up about Freddie Mercury’s lifestyle? Probably not. Fruitvale Station is a sincere and loving tribute to a young father who shouldn’t have died the way he did. He was shot in the back while being restrained by police on the station platform. An officer, who maintained that he thought he was holding his Taser, shot Grant in front of onlookers, many of whom filmed the event on their phones. The film is full of the same sadness, anger, and desire for change that was associated with Grant’s death at the time. The officer in question got sent to prison for 2 years but served on 11-months. Oscar Grant was 22 when he died.
Fruitvale Station might not be perfect and might lean towards the sentimental. Yes, it tries to pull on your heartstrings but it’s trying to make sure we never forget. Nowadays, it can be easy to see police shootings as symbols rather than as people. You see the faces of victims on posters and placards but you don’t know anything of who they are. So, yeah, why not focus on the positives? If it means people see Oscar Grant as a man who didn’t deserve to die and start questioning the system that helped bring him to his death, I’m cool with it. All the better if it helps people question why police officers are so afraid of confronting Black men or so unequipped to deal with tense situations. I for one, am glad that Oscar Grant’s story was told. And I’m even happier that it was told with passion, care, and skill.
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