Biggie probably said it best: “You’re nobody until somebody kills you.” And in the rare case where death plucks you from everyday anonymity to national news story, a lot is gained and probably even more is lost. I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the past week while I’ve been in Oakland. Ads for Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station”, a fictional portrayal of Oscar Grant’s death at the hand’s of a BART police officer back in 2009, are all over the city as the film gets ready to hit theaters this week. Meanwhile, in Florida, George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin has been on cable news nonstop.
On the one hand, it means something that the deaths of black men and boys are getting attention. On the other, there’s something about that attention that minimizes them, that transforms their lives from individual cases to national causes.
Ryan Coogler recently spoke with Sergio from Shadow and Act. What stood out to me was Coogler’s commitment to humanizing Grant in the film. He’s neither a hero nor villain, which is an experience to which I think most of us can relate. But it’s a point worth stressing given the tremendous amount of attention surrounding his case, both in Oakland and across the country. Grant will be remembered as the smiling 22-year-old clad in a black beanie and hoodie. In this film, Coogler does what any meaningful artist sets out to do: show a relatable human who’s flawed, yes, but certainly doesn’t deserve to die.
Check out an excerpt of Coogler’s interview after the jump.
When I saw that footage (of Grant being shot) I saw myself, like a lot of people did in that community. I guess that’s where the film came from seeing that footage and thinking what if one of my friends was right next to me if that happened? What would my family go through if I didn’t make it back? Who would be the most affected by that? And that’s a question that I, unfortunately, ask myself all the time. I have a lot of friends who have been killed or who are incarcerated. So it started from that place. And it’s something that’s affected where I’m from, intensely. I wanted to make a project that was specific to the Bay Area and specific to that environment.
But I also wanted to make it about relationships that people could basically recognize. Because we are all human beings and as human beings we have more in common than we don’t. Though it matters where you’re at, you know what I mean? People know what it’s like to have a mom, to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a spouse. You know what it’s like to be struggling with something internally. And people know what it’s like to be young and dealing with certain things.
For some people being 22 means I can do all kinds of drugs, I can experiment with all kinds of different things, run around with any crowd I feel like. I went to college with those people and their lives are never at stake.. But for other people being 22 means my life is at stake every time I step out the door of my house. Now it’s a reality for some people that when you get apprehended by the police you have to act different than other people do because your life is at stake That is a reality for some people. But is that fair? Is it fair that certain people who look a certain way can’t do certain things or their life is at risk?