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

The new film “Fruitvale Station,” which opens today, examines the final 24 hours in the life of Oscar Grant, the 22 year-old, unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a BART police officer early on New Year’s Day 2009. The death triggered riots in Oakland, and raised serious questions about relationship between citizens and the police. The film won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

NPR has an article about how the stars of the film — Michael B. Jordan, who plays Oscar Grant, and Octavia Spencer, who plays his mother — felt about what is was like to act in the movie based on a true story.

KQED’s Jon Brooks reviewed the movie, observing: “‘Fruitvale Station’ certainly does humanize Grant, in a way that turns someone who has existed as a mere headline for many and a symbol for many more, into a person with hopes, dreams, and flaws.”

“Fruitvale Station” is the first feature for writer/director and Oakland native Ryan Coogler. In an interview, Coogler stated, “It was my goal that this film could be shared with people who would never come in contact with somebody like Oscar Grant. We focused on the human relationships. Everybody knows what it’s like to have a mom, everybody knows how it is to have somebody they love, a lot of people know what it’s like to have a daughter and a lot people know what it’s like to be 22 years old.”

In advance of the film opening tonight, KQED reporter Stephanie Martin spoke with two young Oakland residents on Thursday about the movie and their hopes for it.

Stephanie Martin: The film “Fruitvale Station” opens in theaters nationwide tomorrow and nowhere will it hit closer to home than East Oakland. It tells the story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was unarmed when BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot him on the Fruitvale train platform early New Year’s Day 2009.

Today I visited Oakland’s Youth Uprising Community Center. There I met Brandon Robbins and Dimitrius McWilliams. The two young men didn’t know Oscar Grant, but they say they identify with him in many ways. Robbins says he took BART to San Francisco from Fruitvale on New Year’s Eve and heard about the shooting the following day.

Brandon Robbins: I saw it online and when I saw it online the first thing I thought was this is just visual evidence of something that happens, I don’t want to say quite often, but it happens. It’s happened in history plenty of times. It’s just the first time it’s actually on camera, flat out on camera. I didn’t realize the power of social media in this decade.

Martin: After you learned about what happened, did it change the way you felt when you rode BART? Did it change the way you felt in society?

Robbins: No, because for me since I was a kid, my parents, we really don’t like the police and there’s reasons. For me it’s always been I try to stay far away from the police.

Martin: What about you Dimitrius? Did your outlook change at all after the Oscar Grant killing?

Dimitrius McWilliams: My outlook on BART police changed in that I’m more cautious and it kinds of makes me think that could have been me if I was him.

Martin: The movie comes out tomorrow. You’ve seen the trailers, but you haven’t seen the film, neither one of you. What are you hoping this movie shows?

Robbins: I would hope and think they would go into more of the case, the facts about the case. It’s similar to the Trayvon Martin case, at this point it’s become much bigger than Oscar Grant. It’s become a civilians v. the police type thing, so I’m hoping that they actually in a way celebrate him, but at the same time make it very clear this is an issue and this is an issue that won’t be tolerated.

Martin: And how about you Dimitrius?

McWilliams: I feel every time I see the trailer I get kind of happy, because it’s starting to show you can do anything, make a movie about it and bring it to everybody’s attention and they can have a conversation about it and have the ability to speak about how they feel. Also, when the movie comes out I hope it shows things aren’t always what it seems. You can have one side of the story and the other side of the story, but this movie, like what Brandon was saying, I hope it also does show the actual inside, in-depth details, not too in-depth, but in-depth details, so people can actually understand and not just say, “Mehserle, blah, blah, blah, he’s racist, he’s racist.”

Martin: Of course, the backdrop is your town Oakland, the place you live. What are you hoping for Oakland?

McWilliams: I want to see Oakland join and stop all the fighting, and everybody should all at least care for one another, start caring.

Martin: Do you think a movie has that kind of power?

Robbins: Yeah, it definitely can. They say video games have that kind of power, so I think a movie can. Because I know plenty of people who were like, “Oh, Mehserle is a cold-blooded killer,” but then they’ll go outside and do around the same thing. They’ll shoot somebody or they’ll say, “I should have shot him.” We shall see, we shall see if the movie has as much power. But, I’m the type of person, I can watch ‘Lion King’ and get something from it. I think this is an opportunity. We can pivot things, definitely.

Martin: Brandon, Demetrius, thank you so much. Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the case. This has been Stephanie Martin.


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