Tag Archives: Oscar Grant

New movie Fruitvale Station reminds us of the problems between the Police and Black people in the UK

written by Lee Pinkerton
07/06/14

 

 

New movie FRUITVALE STATION tells the true story of Oscar Grant (played by Michael B Jordan), a 22-year-old Black man, and his tragic interaction with Transport Police on the night of New Year’s Eve 2008.

The story of his tragic and needless death at the hands of law enforcement officers in America, reminded many of the killing of Mark Duggan in the UK.

Mark Duggan, 29, was a passenger in a minicab when on Thursday  August 4th 2011 he was shot dead in the street by police.  The death occurred during an operation where specialist firearm officers and officers from Operation Trident, were  attempting to carry out an arrest.   It was at first announced  that Mr Duggan had been shot after an apparent exchange  of fire. Later the IPCC admitted it may have misled journalists into believing Mr Duggan fired at officers before he was killed.  The circumstances of Duggan’s killing resulted in public protests in Tottenham which, fuelled by poverty and racial tension, led to conflict with police and escalated into riots across London and other English cities. This is widely seen as the  cause of the 2011 England riots.

Like Oscar Grant, Duggan had had previous dealings with the police but  was said to be “a good Dad” who “idolised his kids”. He and his fiance were hoping to marry soon and move out of Tottenham to “start a new life together” with their three children.

The main difference between the Duggan and Grant cases, was that in the American example there were many eye witnesses, with the event even being caught on camera phones.  Perhaps this is why the Police in the Grant case were convicted.  Some were disgusted that Grants’ murderer only served 11 months, but the officers who shot Duggan’s here in the UK were not even found guilty.

On Wednesday January 8th 2014, the jury at the High Court in London found the Police officer who shot Mark Duggan dead, not guilty of unlawful killing.

The presumption of the ‘Great-British-Public’ and the ‘Main-Stream-Media’ is that if the Police use force, then that force must be warranted.  If the Police use deadly force, then they must have considered themselves or the public to be in mortal danger.  In this case the deadly force was justified because the Police THOUGHT that Duggan had a gun and was aiming to shoot.  The fact that he didn’t is just a tragic mistake..

But this Duggan shooting is no isolated incident. To put this case in perspective, let’s have a quick review of the Police’s treatment of Black Britons over the last 30 years.

On 12 January 1983, a young black Hackney man, Colin Roach walked into the lobby of the old Stoke Newington police station, and allegedly blew his head off with an old shotgun. Roach had only minor convictions and was not wanted by the police at the time. There was evidence that he feared ‘someone’ was out to get him. Among the black community of Stoke Newington, ‘someone’ was the police. There were sections of the local community which believed he had been shot by the police. Others believed that whilst the police generically might be capable of doing this, they would not be so foolish – unless this was the most amazing double-bluff – to do it literally on their own doorstep.’
A coroner’s jury voted eight-to-two that Mr Roach committed suicide, but Hackney residents staged angry demonstrations and refused to accept the verdict, pointing out that (among other puzzles) no fingerprints had been found on the shotgun; nor had it been forensically linked to the dead man.
In 1985, an independent inquiry into his death on behalf of the dead man’s family was told of police harassment, wrongful arrest, uncivil conduct during home raids, misuse of stop and search and other abuses to Stoke Newington’s residents.

colin roach

In September 1985 the police conducted an armed search of the home of Cherry Groce seeking her son Michael Groce in relation to a suspected firearms offence – they believed Michael was hiding in his mother’s home. Mrs. Groce was in bed when the police began their search and Michael was not there at the time, but Mrs. Groce was hit by a police bullet – an injury which left her paralysed from the waist down.   This event was the spark for the Brixton Riots of 1985. The police officer who shot Mrs. Groce, Inspector Douglas Lovelock, was prosecuted but eventually acquitted of malicious wounding. Mrs. Groce received compensation from the Metropolitan Police.

The very next month a young black man, Floyd Jarrett, was arrested by police, having been stopped in a vehicle with an allegedly suspicious tax disc. Four police officers searched his home. In a disturbance between police and family members, his 49-year-old mother, Cynthia Jarrett, fell over and died of a stroke.  Cynthia Jarrett’s death sparked outrage from members of the black community against the Metropolitan Police, and was the spark for the Broadwater Farm Riot.

Joy Gardner was a 40-year-old Black woman from Jamaica who was killed during a struggle with the police at her home in Crouch End, London. Joy had come to visit her mother, Myrna Simpson, in 1987, but had overstayed her 6 month visa. In 1993 an immigration officer and police officers arrived at her home to serve a deportation notice. When Gardner refused, the police entered her home and struggled and fought with her. Police gagged and restrained Gardner using a body belt and wrapped 13 ft of tape around her head which they later claimed was to prevent her biting them. Gardner suffocated and subsequently fell into a coma. She later died in hospital. These events were witnessed by Gardner’s five year old son. The three police officers involved were found not guilty of manslaughter in 1995.

In April 1998Christopher Alder,  a 37-year-old trainee computer programmer and former British Army paratrooper who had served in the Falklands War and Northern Ireland, had been assaulted outside a night club and taken to a local hospital, where he was arrested by officers for an alleged breach of the peace following complaints about his behaviour from nursing staff . While fit enough to get into a police van by himself, CCTV footage shows that upon arrival at the police station, Alder was unconscious when dragged from the van and placed on the floor of the custody suite.  Officers calmly chatted among themselves, one of them suggesting he was faking illness. Eleven minutes later, when officers finally realised he had stopped breathing, attempts to resuscitate him came too late.  Alder died lying face down, handcuffed, with his trousers around his ankles on the floor of a police station in Hull. Following his death, Alder’s sister Janet launched a long struggle for justice. In 2000 a coroner’s jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, and in 2002 five police officers went on trial accused of manslaughter and misconduct in public office. All were cleared on the orders of the judge. An internal disciplinary inquiry by Humberside Police cleared the officers of any wrongdoing. In 2006, an Independent Police Complaints Commission report concluded that four of the officers present in the custody suite when Alder died were guilty of the “most serious neglect of duty”, but the officers responsible walked free.

On January 11, 1999, police arrived outside Roger Sylvester’s house as a result of a 999 emergency call. Two officers came to the house initially and found him naked in his front garden. Within minutes another six officers had arrived. The eight officers put Sylvester to the ground where he was handcuffed.    He was detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. Police officers told his family that he was restrained “for his own safety.” According to one witness, Sylvester’s body was already limp when it was placed in the police van. He was taken to St Ann’s hospital and carried from the van to a private room where, still restrained, he was put on the floor by upwards of six police officers for nearly 20 minutes before being seen by a doctor. The officers, with the assistance of medical staff, tried to resuscitate him but he had sustained numerous injuries and remained in a coma at the Whittington hospital until his life support machine was switched off seven days later.

24 year old Azelle Rodney was a back seat passenger of a Volkswagon Golf travelling the streets of North London in April 2005, when the police performed what they call ‘a hard stop’.  The car had been under surveillance for several hours before officers stopped it in Edgware.  Police believed he was part of an armed gang who were on their way to rob a Columbian drugs gang.  With this suspicion the Police could have arrested Rodney and the other occupants of the car before they even started their journey, but instead chose to allow them to start their drive across London. Alternatively, the officers who had been following Rodney’s car covertly, could have switched on their lights and siren when making the stop so that they could clearly have been identified as officers.  Instead, within seconds of the Police surrounding the car, Rodney was shot six times by an armed officer who offered no verbal warning.  Two other occupants of the car were later convicted for firearms offences, but there was no evidence that Mr Rodney was holding a weapon at the time of the shooting.  True to form an investigation by the IPCC exonerated the Police, and the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was no criminal case for the police to answer. Seven years  later in 2012 a public inquiry was opened instead of an inquest because a coroner would not have been able to see some of the evidence that Police say was behind their actions.  In July 2013, a public inquiry chaired by a retired High Court judge concluded the killing was unlawful.

On March 15th 2011 Police conducted a search at the home of David Emmanuel aka reggae artist Smiley Culture.  Whilst Police were at the property Smiley Culture sustained a single stab wound to the chest, from which he later died.  An investigation into the Police operation was conducted by the IPCC and found no evidence that a crime had been committed, and no misconduct by Police officers.   An inquest into Smiley’s death will be held in front of a jury and will not take place before the conclusion of the trials to which Smiley was allegedly linked.

Though apologists say that relations between the Police and Black people are much better than they were back in the day, the truth is that little has changed.  Back in the 80’s it was the hated ‘Sus’ law that caused tension between the Police and young Black men – now its Section 60 powers.  Introduced in the 90’s to deal with football hooliganism, now its used to harass those who’ve never been to a football match.

In 2010 there were 70,000 stops and searches in London alone. Analysis by the London School of Economics and the Open Society Justice Initiative shows that during the last 12 months a Black person was nearly 30 times more likely to be stopped and searched that a white person.  And a separate analysis, based on Home Office data reveals that less that 0.5% of section 60 searches led to an arrest for possession of a dangerous weapon, five times fewer than a year ago.  And then they wonder why so many young Black men hate the Police?

How much have things really changed?  The death of Cynthia Jarret at the hands of the police led to the Tottenham Riots in 1985.  The shooting of Cherry Groce by Police the same year led to the Brixton Riots.  The shooting of Mark Duggan by the Police led to the Tottenham Riots of  2011 and the general hostility towards the police by Black people, and feelings of alienation and hopelessness from the underclass took those riots nationwide.

The case of Oscar Grant, like the 1991 case of Black motorist Rodney King, (below) shows that often it is only when evidence is caught on camera, that justice will be served.

Lee Pinkerton

Fruitvale Station is in cinemas now. Read the review here
Click here for a nationwide list of cinemas 

Film Review: Fruitvale Station

written by Leslie Byron Pitt
21/05/14

Fruitvale-StationPosterPoor old Michael B Jordan. A black actor picked to portray a usually-white comic character (Johnny Blaze), he faced the ire of the fanboys (despite Hollywood whitewashing ethnic characters from a Touch of Evil to Othello with little outrage). While in Chronicle (2012), Jordan played the all-star jock with a good heart who meets  an unfortunate fate, here in Fruitvale Station, where Jordan plays the tragic role of Oscar Grant, I found myself in a discussion with colleagues about this character being portrayed as  “too good”. I was tickled by the idea that in the era of the superhero, this account of a poor black boy who meets a tragic fate at the hands of a cop could be considered too sanctimonious. When looking at Mr Jordan’s body of work, I’m wondering if quite simply, he is not allowed to be “good”.

Ryan Coogler’s feature length debut is inspired by the true story of the last 24 hours of young, black ex-dealer and frames it with the argument of redemption being too far-reaching for such a person. Is Oscar being “too good”? Possibly. Maybe it’s because he lives in a world where even being good for him means being better, constantly. Coogler’s film is full of small moments that remind us how the world can be viewed by young black men. We witness a scene in which Oscar (a superlative performance from Jordan), on his day off, tries to provide shopping advice to a woman who is not sure on what type of fish to buy for her New Year’s Eve party. He politely offers his help, she silently steps away from him, weary of his hoodie and hat, yet ignorant of his polite demeanour. She only co-operates when his friend behind the counter vouches for him. The film is intelligent in its observations of the micro-aggressions that aggregate throughout the life of black youths. Oscar is someone who needs to show at every turn just how good he is as a person, but he lives in a world where he is far too often looked at in negative terms. A short and rough-edged jail time flashback show us that he’s already proved naysayers right once.

This is a flawed man whose infidelity, anger and troubled past are observed as well as his more positive side. While Oscar may be at odds when it comes to his financial burdens, his role as father to his child is not in question. Nor should it be, as Coogler shows Oscar is part of the 75% of American black fathers that take an active role in their child’s life.

FVS_Mum&OscarGrant_sadNew York Post critic Kyle Smith found himself frustrated with the films “mundane” observations of Grant’s life, yet in a cinematic landscape where normal black lives are still placed within the periphery, while stereotypes and support roles reign supreme, it’s particularly telling that the normal everyday lives of the majority are fine while that of the minority are considered un-needed or forced. What I found investing about such scenes was how richly grounded the performances make them.  Octavia Spencer handles her matriarchal role with the typical gravitas we know her for, while Melonie Diaz, as Oscar’s girlfriend, Sophia, gives a spirited performance.


Fruitvale Station
isn’t perfect. The film’s climax, while powerful and uncomfortable, also holds some of the most jarring contrivances involving characters we’ve noticed before. One of the most debated moments involving a run-over dog may be a well-illustrated metaphor for how Oscar’s life is finally viewed, but also feels a tad on the nose in consideration of matters. And while many find the opening 90 seconds to be the most powerful, I wasn’t too sure about the placement. As mentioned before, the film is blunt and not as nuanced as could have been hoped for.

That said, Fruitvale Station isn’t really about nuance. Such tones are best saved for films which FVS_Oscarpleadshave more leeway. The film affected me in a similar way to Boyz n the Hood (1991) or Menace 2 Society (1993). The film is blunt in a way that “hood” movies often are, and there’s a necessity for its directness due to the message itself:  that persons like Oscar Grant, in life or cinema, are given little leeway and no chance to get things right. Once again, we perceive shades of other true life stories that penetrate our media-hungry society, from the likes of Travon Martin to Mark Duggan. The details may have been revised slightly (Coogler gives the film a good degree of dramatic licence) but the outcome remains the same.  Maybe the film shows Oscar as so good because in real life, men like him will, no matter what, always be considered bad first.

Smith’s review hinted not only to not pay too much mind to the film, but also to Grant himself, giving both the film’s final words (“Where’s Daddy?”) and proceedings in general a grim sense of irony: when it comes to black characters who try to buck stereotypical trends, the majority don’t want to know. For me, Fruitvale works because it displays such matters so unflinchingly. It demands us to view the world in a way only too common for young Afro-American men.

Leslie Byron Pitt

Fruitvale Station is released in UK cinemas on June 6th.
see the full cast list here
read an inteview with the film’s director here
s
ee a list of nationwide cinemas on the special facebook page 

 

 

Fruitvale Station is coming to a cinema near you!

KUSH PROMOTIONS & PR

The UK’s leading promoter of urban cinema
in association with new UK distributor Altitude Films
presents the UK release of the multi award-winning film.

Quad_Fruitvale-Station_lore

Fruitvale Station is coming to a cinema near you!

Writer and director, Ryan Coogler’s powerful, unflinching film debut, FRUITVALE STATION will open in UK and Irish cinemas on 6 June.

FRUITVALE STATION tells the true story of Oscar Grant (Michael B Jordan), a 22-year-old Oakland, CA resident over the course of December 31, 2008 as he works on being a better son to his mother (Octavia Spencer), being a better partner to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and being a better father to Tatiana (Ariana Neal), their beautiful four year-old daughter.  As the day goes on Oscar realises that change is not going to come easily and as he and Sophina celebrate the New Year and a fresh start, one truly shocking, tragedy shakes his community – and the entire United States – to its very core.

Written and directed by debutant Coogler, the Independent Spirit Award and double Sundance Film Festival winner was produced by Forest Whitaker.

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FRUITVALE STATION will open in key cinemas
across the UK and Ireland on 6 June.

 

In London

Cineworld Haymarket
Curzon Soho
The Barbican
Empire Leicester Square
Odeon Covent Garden
Odeon Holloway
Odeon Swiss Cottage
Picturehouse Hackney
Ritzy Brixton
Vue Finchley Rd
Vue Islington
Curzon Wimbledon
Cineworld Enfield
LEXI Cinema
Odeon Edmonton
Odeon Greenwich
Odeon Streatham
Odeon Wimbledon
Peckhamplex Peckham
Picturehouse Stratford East
Showcase Newham
The Aubin Cinema
Vue Shepherds Bush
Vue Westfield Stratford
Also Nationwide at:
Duke Of York’s Brighton
Broadway Nottingham
Odeon Birmingham Broadway Plaza
Phoenix Oxford
Showcase Dudley
Watershed Bristol
Cornerhouse Manchester
Liverpool FACT
Odeon Manchester Filmworks
Cineworld Sheffield
Cameo Edinburgh
Cineworld Glasgow RS
Glasgow Film Theatre
IFI Dublin
Light House Dublin
Week 2 – 13th June
Hyde Park Leeds
Tyneside NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
Picturehouse Greenwich
Shortwave Bermondsey
Rio Dalston
Curzon Victoria
Genesis Mile End
Week 3 – 20th June
The Barn Dartington


New sites are being updated as they come in – keep abreast
of new venues by using this app link here:

New Cinemas

If you want FRUITVALE STATION to play a your local cinema, ask them to book it!

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FRUITVALE STATION is one of this summer’s must see movies.

see the full cast list here
read an inteview with the film’s director here
follow @fruitvalemovie on twitter
see a list of national cinemas on the special  facebook page

Fruitvale Station – interview with the film’s director Ryan Coogler

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The multiple award winning film Fruitvale Station tells the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Oakland, California resident, and the harrowing events that befell him on the night of New Year’s Eve  2008.  Here we speak to the film’s first time director Ryan Coogler.

Ryan-Coogler

What originally inspired you to make this film?
I was originally inspired to make this film by the event itself, as well as the aftermath. I was in the Bay Area, on Christmas break from film school when it happened. I heard that someone had been shot at the BART station, and that he passed away the next morning. On New Year’s Day I saw the footage, and I was deeply affected by it. Looking at the footage, I realized that Oscar could have been me…we were the same age, his friends looked like my friends, and I was devastated that this could happen in the Bay Area. During the trial I saw how the situation became politicized: depending on which side of the political fence people stood on, Oscar was either cast as a saint who had never done anything wrong in his life, or he was painted as a monster who got what he deserved that night. I felt that in that process, Oscar’s humanity was lost. When anyone’s life is lost, the true nature of the tragedy lies in who they were to the people that knew him or her the best. The footage, the trail, and the aftermath filled me with a great sense of helplessness. Many people in the Bay Area community participated in protests, others took parts in rallies and marches. There were also many riots stemming from desperation. I wanted to do something to make a difference, and I thought that if I could bring the story to life through art, and give audiences the chance to spend time with a character like Oscar, it could maybe lower the chances of an incident like this happening again.

How, and at what point, did Forest Whitaker come on board?
Ryan-Coogler-Forest-Whitaker-at-Cannes-Film-Festival-052513When I was in my last semester of film school, in January of 2011, I got word that Forest’s production company, Significant Productions, had been looking for young filmmakers to mentor and become creatively involved with, and that my name had come up in their search for filmmakers.  I went over to their office and met with Nina Yang, the head of production. Nina was great. She told me about the company’s mission statement and that she would love to read some of the stuff that I had written. I showed her a few of the projects that I had been working on, and after looking at them she decided that she would like to get me in the room with Forest.
I met Forest a few weeks later and was really encouraged by his humility and his passion for filmmaking and social issues. He was interested in hearing what type of projects I wanted to work on once I got out of school and I pitched him a few that I had been developing. Finally, I told him about FRUITVALE STATION and explained to him that it was the project closest to my heart. I talked about how I would structure the film, and about how I was already in touch with the lawyers in charge of the civil case through a friend who was formally a law student at USC and now worked on the case back in the Bay Area. Forest said that he would like to help me make the film immediately after the pitch, and shook my hand, and walked out of the room. I was so excited that I went home and started working on the outline immediately.

How long did it take to develop the film and what obstacles, if any, did you run into?
I started outlining and getting public record documents from my friend Ephraim Walker, who worked with John Burris, the family’s civil attorney on the case around the same time that I pitched the project to Forest. After Significant green lit the project, I then went to meet with the family, and pitch them on allowing Significant to have the rights to Oscar’s story. It involved a lot of trust on their behalf and I had to reassure them that I wouldn’t sensationalize the story in any way. I just really wanted the story to be told from the perspective of someone the same age and demographic as Oscar, and from the Bay Area. This took time. I showed them my short films, and told them about myself, and about why I thought that the story should be told through the lens of independent cinema. Eventually they agreed to move forward with the project.
FVS_PoliceGraspAnother challenge was making the film with a modest budget while still wanting to stay true to certain artistic convictions. We wanted to shoot in the Bay Area. We wanted to shoot on super 16mm film. These things all involved being open to creative solutions and going at an accelerated pace. We shot the film in twenty days, and didn’t have any pickups involving talent. The rapid fire schedule certainly didn’t stop after production. We shot in July 2012 and premiered at Sundance six months later. The schedule was an extremely challenging component, and put a lot of strain on everyone involved.
One of the biggest challenges stemmed from wanting to shoot in some of the real locations, mainly BART. There was a lot of worry about how we would get the BART station and train scenes shot, and because it is such a painful event for the company and the community, many doubted that they would cooperate. But we approached them, and found that they were open to meeting with us about the film. I met with them and told them what the project would be about, and why we wanted to shoot on BART premises. After hearing the pitch, they decided to cooperate with our production.

You were selected to bring the film’s screenplay to the 2012 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab. What effect did that experience have on you as a filmmaker and on how the project turned out?
Getting selected into the Sundance Labs was absolutely essential in making the film what it came out to be. So many positive elements that came together for the film were as a direct result of support received from The Sundance Institute and the hard work of the Feature Film Program staff. Michelle Satter, Ilyse McKimmie and their team provided much needed support much for me and the film throughout all the stages of the filmmaking process. In the 2012 Screenwriting Lab, I was able to take a week and focus on the script, while surrounded by a community of extremely talented artists who want to see everyone succeed in telling the story they want to tell. They provided me with the tools I needed to make a stronger script, and their support continued throughout prep, production and post. They provided us with financial grants, crewing advice, reading further drafts of the script, and watched cuts of the film as it progressed. They also provided introductions to people in the industry, like Craig Kestel who would later become my agent and play a pivotal role in helping secure the cast for the film.

Tell us a little about the process of casting the film.
Before writing the script, I knew that the lead would have to be able to carry the entire film. He would need to possess a great range and charisma, and it would be helpful if he had a lot of experience due to the rapid shooting schedule we were in for. I also wanted to have someone who resembled Oscar. There are pictures of him everywhere in the Bay Area and on the internet, and we needed someone with a great smile and eyes that could draw the viewer in, like Oscar’s. And it would help if the actor was around the same age as him.
FVS_Mum&OscarGrant_sadIn my mind, there was only one person who fit all of these requirements. I had Michael B. Jordan in mind before I had even written the script, and I was excited about the opportunity to really showcase his work in a lead role. We reached out to him after the labs and he took a meeting with me before reading the script, which I thought was really cool. We really hit it off in the meeting and I came away knowing that he was perfect for the role. I was thankful that he read the script later and wanted to do the project.
I knew we needed someone amazing for the role of Wanda, as she was such an important force in Oscar’s life and her character in the script would need to show a great deal of range. After reading the script, my agent Craig Kestel decided that we should reach out to Octavia, who had just won an Oscar for THE HELP. I knew she would be perfect for us, but I figured that she would never do it. He encouraged me that she would consider it, and we reached out with the script, and a few days later, she committed. Working with her was like a dream come true to everyone involved. She brought such professionalism, and a nurturing quality to the set, but also a great youthful energy and sense of humor. There is no one like her.
FVS_OscarGrant&GirlfriendMelonie Diaz for the role of Sophina came about through several recommendations, including from members of the Sundance Lab staff. I had seen her work before and really responded to it. We reached out to her and gave her the script, but because she was in New York and I was here in California, we had to have our initial meetings over the phone. After talking to her over Skype we offered her the role, and she came with a tremendous energy and work ethic. We were so grateful to have her; she and Mike had an amazing chemistry together.
The San Francisco Film Society, who were also amazingly supportive with financial grants and Bay Area film community connections, supported us with their Off The Page program. They flew both Michael and Melonie out to the Bay Area before our shoot, and put them up in the Bay Area for three days. While they were here we were able to workshop the script on SFFS property. I was also able to take them to meet Sophina and Tatiana, as well as take them to spend time in Oscar’s old neighborhood.
For the roles of Oscar’s friends, I was able to cast several of my friends that I had grown up with who were the same age as Oscar and his friends. Michael got along with them all really well, and they were able to lean on each other for support with what was, for many of them, their first time working on a feature film. Because most of them grew up with each other, their camaraderie came across onscreen and felt like true, lifelong friendships.

The story of Oscar Grant was a nationwide media sensation that fueled a great deal of controversy and news coverage. What made you decide to make this a narrative film, rather than a documentary?
FVS_babyTalkI decided to make a narrative feature about these events for several reasons. For one, I wanted to tell this story sooner than later, because events like this keep happening. One of the advantages to fiction filmmaking versus non-fiction filmmaking is that a fiction project can usually be completed faster. My favorite documentaries all took several years to make. Another reason was the difference in perspective in character driven fiction films versus documentary films. I personally believe that narrative filmmaking, when done right, can get you closer to a character than a documentary can.  In this story, I wanted the audience to be as close to Oscar as possible, without the barrier of the character knowing that he is being filmed, which is a barrier that is difficult to break in documentary filmmaking – especially with a limited schedule.

At the time of Oscar’s shooting, there were an overwhelming amount of witnesses who shared cell phone videos of the incident online. What role do you think this found footage played in the profile of the case, and how useful was it to you in making your film?
The footage played a key role in this case, because if it had happened ten years earlier, when people didn’t have the type of technology that they did in 2009 that enabled them to record video instantly, Oscar’s death wouldn’t have had the impact that it did. It would have been people giving verbal accounts of what happened, as opposed to documenting it with video evidence. The footage makes everyone who watches it a witness to what happened, and it is ultimately what made the case different from other officer-involved shootings.
The footage was very useful in terms of blocking the scene and working out the individual beats. But it also made for an added level of emotional difficulty in making the film. I cannot count how many times I have seen Oscar get shot, over and over again, from different angles, and each time you see something like that, it’s like it takes a piece of you.
But more so than anything, the role of cell phones and video cameras in the case inspired us to explore the use of cell phones throughout the film. It made us think about how we use them. Though it was four years ago, Oscar connected with his loved ones often through his cell phone, even on the last day of his life.

Was there a particularly difficult element or scene of the film to write and shoot?
Because we were dealing with such a short schedule, every scene we shot had its own inherent difficulties. I think that it’s like that whenever you’re making a film, but I think the most difficult scene to shoot was the scene on the Fruitvale BART platform. BART was extremely cooperative with us but they couldn’t let us shoot during their hours of operation. We could only have access to the platform and train between 1:15am and 5:15am.
FVS_OscarpleadsDue to that, we had to shoot the scene over three four-hour days. This was a challenge because the scene is our most involved, and included several elements: stunts, several extras, a firearm, and most importantly highly intense emotional beats. But our cast and crew really rose to the challenge. Before every one of those shooting days, everyone involved, from the film crew, to the cast, to the extras, to the BART employees, would come together in a moment of silence before we began filming on the location where Oscar was shot. And though we had limited time, everyone brought a focus and supportive energy to our short days at that location.

Aside from learning the story of his shooting and tragic death, what else do you want this film to teach audiences about Oscar Grant?
I want audiences to know that he was a real person. He was a person with real struggles and personal conflicts, but also with real hopes, and real dreams, and goals. And his life mattered deeply to the people that he loved the most. I hope that the film gives the audience a proximity to characters like Oscar that reading a newspaper headline can’t.

FRUITVALE title Orange on Black

This award-winning film hits UK cinemas from 6th June 2014
read the synopsis and watch the trailer here
see the full cast list here
follow @fruitvalemovie on twitter
see the nationwide lists of cinemas on the special  facebook page