Oscar Grant Family Looking Forward to ‘Fruitvale’, Film About the Shooting

Fruitvale, a film about the shooting death of Oscar Grant, has been in production around Oakland, as some have been tweeting…

Spencer won the Academy Award earlier this year for her supporting role in The Help. She’s playing Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson; Michael B. Jordan of “Friday Night Lights” will also star, reportedly as Grant himself. Oakland native Ryan Coogler is directing for actor Forrest Whitaker’s production company.

Speaking about the 2009 incident, in which Oakland was turned upside down after cellphone video emerged of an unarmed Grant being shot dead by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, Coogler told Filmmaker magazine, “I saw the riots and the frustration [following the shooting], and they didn’t have an effect. If I can get two hours of people’s time, I can affect them more than if they threw a trash can through a window.”

Mehserle, who claimed he shot Grant by accident when he mistook his gun for his taser, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison. He ended up serving just a year after receiving credit for time in jail plus good behavior.

From an April Chronicle report about the movie:

“Fruitvale” is expected to portray the hours before Grant, 22, was shot in the back by former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle on Jan. 1, 2009, after being pulled off a train at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station in connection with a fight.

“We want it to be a teaching tool,” said Wanda Johnson, Grant’s mother. “We really need to work together to eliminate this type of occurrence.”

Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar J. Grant III, is comforted by her supporters outside the Los Angeles Superior Court after Johannes Mesherle was sentanced to voluntary manslaughter. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty

Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, told me today that the family, especially Grant’s mother, has had “many conversations” with Forrest Whitaker as well as with director Ryan Coogler in preparation for the production, and that he has high hopes for the final film.

“I think the community as well as the world should know who [Oscar Grant] was and what happened to him,” he said. “It will humanize Oscar as being a young black man that was tragically murdered on a platform for no apparent reason.”

Johnson said Grant’s mother had seen the final script and was satisfied with it.

It’s unclear what role, if any, Johannes Mehserle will play in the film. A look at the cast list on IMDB yields no clues. So I asked Johnson if he knew who might be portraying the former BART cop.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Update: I asked Mehserle defense attorney Michael Rains what he thought about a movie being made about the incident.

“I don’t think Johannes or I have any problem if the family wants to do a movie,” he said. “It’s a tragedy what happened, and movies capture tragedy. I would hope the movie would capture the tragedy of the whole event, which means the tragic shooting of Oscar Grant [and] — if the movie is true to what really happened — capture the shock and the horror that was on Johannes’s face, as testified by every witness at the trial, right after the shooting.”

Rains said that Mehserle’s been “doing odd jobs. He’s working, he’s doing well.”

He also said he’s waiting to hear if the California Supreme Court will hear an appeal of Mehserle’s conviction.

Update 2: KGO reports the film is being made with BART’s approval.

BART spokesman Jim Allison tells ABC7 News, “When there is filming on BART property, the permit insures that BART is reimbursed for staff work so taxpayers are not subsidizing the film.” However, he would not reveal any specific financial details…

Regarding the script, the transit agency spokesman says, “BART oversees the content so BART is not portrayed in a way that BART does not want to be portrayed.” The city and transit agency have been keeping the film details close to the vest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anson.rohr Anson Rohr

    How does one “humanize” animals like the Grant family?

  • http://www.facebook.com/anson.rohr Anson Rohr

    How does one “humanize” animals like the Grant family?

  • http://www.facebook.com/anson.rohr Anson Rohr

    Exactly how does one “humanize” animals like Oscar Grant, Wanda Johnson, and Cephus Johnson?

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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