Black Americans have endured their fair share of unjust treatment at the hands of the police and laws put in place to protect the country’s citizens. We’ve also found ourselves being victimized a second time during the trials and receiving no justice. Considering that it’s still fresh in our minds, a prime example is the Trayvon Martin murder by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was a grown man with a loaded gun seeming to be looking for trouble and found it with an unarmed 17-year-old Martin. George Zimmerman was found not guilty of any crime thanks to the Stand Your Ground Law and America was outraged. However, this isn’t the first time an incident like this has happened.
Black Americans were outraged in 2009 due to the senseless slaying of Bay area man Oscar Grant. On New Year’s Day, Grant and his friends were heading back home on the train when Grant was involved in a fight on the train. He and his friends were pulled off and subsequently handcuffed. As he and his friends demanded to know why they were being handcuffed for no reason, one of the police officers forced Grant to lay face down on the train platform. When thought to be resisting, a police officer shot him in the back. Grant later died.
As many took to social media to voice their opinions about the Oscar Grant case, writer/director and Bay area native Ryan Coogler did what he does best, he wrote a script about the last days of Oscar Grant. Titled “Fruitvale Station,” Coogler worked with some great actors on the film such as Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, and Melonie Diaz.
Due for a nationwide release on July 26, we caught up with Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan where they talked about why they chose to work on a film about Oscar Grant instead of any other police brutality case. They also spoke about what making the film taught them about themselves and what they hope the audience gains from the film.
*EDITOR’S NOTE* These interviews took place before the George Zimmerman verdict was announced. While we did ask them questions about Trayvon Martin, they respectfully asked not to have those included because they didn’t want people to assume the film was trying to promote itself on the back of Trayvon Martin.
TUD: Why did you choose to do a movie about the death of Oscar Grant out of all of the police brutality cases America has had over the years?
RC: It was the one that affected me on the most personal level. You know, I was the same age as Oscar and I was right there in the Bay area when it happened. So it was really a case of proximity. It was something that affected me and my community really, really deeply. With the case being so close to home, that’s what inspired me to want to make a film about it.
MBJ: I remember when it happened back in 2009 and being very emotionally bothered, angry, upset, and frustrated. I felt like there was nothing I could really do. As an actor, I just felt powerless. Four years later, when this project comes about, I saw the opportunity to play him, I jumped at it. I finally felt that I could express how I felt about the situation through my art.
Everything about this project felt right. It was a timely story that needed to be told. I got to work with the likes of Octavia Spencer and Ryan Coogler. Being a lead in a film was very appealing to me. It’s the first one for me.
TUD: What did the process of making this film teach you about yourself?
RC: Wow. It taught me that I’m a person who likes to work in a certain way. I like to work in a family atmosphere with people who care about collaboration and are team players. I learned that I really liked making movies. It was something that was so hard to do. Making an independent film really wrecks your life. It breaks your body down and beats you down, then I realized if I continued to put myself through all of that then I must really love making films. I can’t wait to get back out into the trenches again with another project when the time is right.
MBJ: [long pause] I learned I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. There was a lot of pressure to make everybody happy. You know, you want to make sure the community is satisfied. You want to make sure the family is happy because one day his daughter is going to watch this movie. I felt a strong sense of responsibility to that. It was a lot, bro.
TUD: What do you hope the audience gains from watching the film?
RC: I hope that the audiences gain insight about what it’s like to be a person like Oscar Grant. I hope it triggers a thought process in the viewer about their own personal relationships and how they treat the people they love the most. A big thing is Oscar Grant was a human being and all human beings matter. You never know what they’ve been through and everybody deserves a right to live.
MBJ: I want them to feel some type of way. Whether they’re angry or upset. I want them to start looking at themselves in the mirror and start to question how they can become a better person because that’s the only way we can take steps in the right direction towards change. If we can spark conversation about our justice system, then I think we did our job.
TUD: How did Oscar Grant’s family react once they saw the finished film?
RC: It’s a tough and complex thing for them to watch because this is what happened in their lives. It’s dealing with a situation that’s very close to home for them. It’s very emotional for them. We made the film so that the people who didn’t know Oscar could have some insight. They already knew him and went through the experiences documented in the film. But they were very positive and had very kind things to say about the film, especially to the actors.
MBJ: I remember being at a film festival and his aunt saying, “Michael, I want to thank you because there were some scenes I couldn’t tell the difference between you and my nephew.” I was blown away. It means so much to me because I always thought about the family and what they would think and how they would feel when they watched this movie.
TUD: There is a lot of buzz going around about this film being nominated during awards season. Have those notions had any effect on you while you’re out promoting the film?
RC: To be honest, I try not to think about those things. For me, making this film was always about making sure the story was told, raising awareness about this situation, and giving people a chance to see it. That’s the award for me–the fact that the film has been able to go to these film festivals and shared with people. Plus the fact that the film has distribution. Those things are what I set out to do and I’m extremely proud of what my actors have done. They deserve every bit of recognition they are receiving and I hope more comes their way. But as for me, I’m just happy the movie is getting a chance to be seen.
MBJ: I can’t. I can’t even…when I hear that stuff, I just cover my ears and run in the other direction. As an actor, especially growing up as a child actor, you change your way of thinking in this business. I used to get my hopes up with a lot of things. I would go on auditions and think I did a great job and just knew I was going to get the part, but never got the call. I started feeling let down. So to protect yourself over things you have no control over, I now just promote the work and let the work speak for itself. If people try to put me and the film in that conversation, then it’s an honor, but it’s not something I think about.
Hit the flip to read about the moment Ryan Coogler’s parents had the police rules of engagement conversation.