FruitvaleStationA story is told of a grandfather, teaching his grandson about the two wolves fighting inside each of us, all the time: the wolf of anger, greed, envy and all things bad;
against the wolf of love, compassion, unity and all things good.

“Which one will win?” asks the grandson.
The grandfather answers, “The one you feed.”

When deciding how to tell a story, a filmmaker faces endless choices. In the making of Fruitvale Station, 26-year old writer/director Ryan Coogler made the right choices to tell the story he set out to tell: a version of the Oscar Grant story. In the early morning hours of January 1, 2009, 22-year old, unarmed Grant was shot and killed by a transit cop in the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, CA. Critics who miss the point say Coogler was “loose with the facts to elicit sympathy for Oscar Grant”. This is a film based on a true story; it is not a documentary. Through flaws, virtues and vulnerability, the film shows how starkly human was the man Oscar Grant. Coogler’s camera does what film does best—dramatically, vividly takes us inside the extra-personal chaos Oscar faced in his life as a young, black, American man living—as far too many do—on the fringes. Brilliant choice to distill this life down to its final 24 hours.

“I always knew I wanted to tell it in that format, spend time, let things breathe, let the audience spend time with the character. Ideally the people who watch this film would never know that person, or spend five minutes with him. Now they spend 90 minutes with him some understanding.”  ~ Ryan Coogler, interviewed

When the audience knows how your story ends, the filmmaker has an added challenge. Coogler met it by showing us what we already (think) we know in an unexpected way; and then making intimate that which we could not know.

“I had a need to speak to things we deal with on a day-to-day basis. So few get our stories told by us. I knew I had an inherent responsibility to show things we struggle with every day, things that are good in our lives, the human relationships we have with people we love, with our kids. Because that is not often shown in the media, it often leads to issues where we are not seen as full human beings.” ~ Ryan Coogler

Even though I left the theater with a few queries about the protagonist—the nature of his childhood and juvenile crimes, why he spent time in prison—I still left satisfied and heartened by this enormous debut from Coogler. And I left with Oscar Grant in my heart—a young man caught in life’s dichotomies. Who among us is not capable of being “smart and foolish, loving and irresponsible, candid and evasive”? Which of us can’t identify on a human level with Oscar’s struggle to balance the good and the bad wolf?

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