I never set out to make people cry during interviews, but there was something about the subject matter of FRUITVALE STATION that brings tears to the eyes of all but the most hard-hearted. The shooting of Oscar Grant in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009 was the stuff of controversy from the moment it happened. A minor scuffle, an overreaction by the authorities, and a young man was dead. Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar(tm) for her work in THE HELP, plays Oscar’s mother, Wanda, in the film, and when I asked her about recreating the moment when Wanda is finally allowed to see Oscar’s body, the actress couldn’t go on. Jordan, who plays Oscar, stepped in to finish the answer.
FRUITVALE STATION was filmed on many of the location where the events of the movie actually happened, including the hospital where he died, and the eponymous BART station where he was shot. When I talked to Spencer and Jordan, one of the things I was most curious about was how being in those places informed their performances, prompting an unexpected discovery by the two actors, as they each learned that the other had, in the course of filming, had been talking to Oscar’s spirit. It was just one of the many heartfelt and moving moments in an emotional conversation.
Based on actual events, it’s writer/director Ryan Coogler’s incisive, heartbreaking, and infuriating retelling of the last day of Oscar Grant’s life before being shot by a Bart police officer on New Year’s Day 2009 after a minor scuffle. It’s a day that starts with a rift in his long-term relationship with Sophina, the mother of his beloved daughter, and winds through his determination to put his life back together as his New Year’s resolution. The film is careful to present Oscar in all his complexity as a basically decent guy who made mistakes, tried to learn from them, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time at the end. The film stars Jordan as Oscar, Spencer as Wanda, his tough-loving mother, and Melonia Diaz as Sophina. Jordan’s previous work includes the films RED TAILS, CHRONICLE, and on television, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and PARENTHOOD. Spencer won an Oscar™ for her role as Minnie in the bittersweet film, THE HELP, and on television she has been seen as herself on 30 ROCK, and a tough but fair DMV employee on THE BIG BANG THEORY