A new year is a time of reflection and starting over but December 31, 2008, would be the last day of 22-year old Oscar Grant’s life. Fruitvale Station, the debut film of writer/director Ryan Coogler examines that fateful final day in the life of the young man whose life was cut short when he was shot in the back by a police officer at the BART Fruitvale Station in the early morning hours of 2009.

In the aftermath of the incident, as in similar cases of an unarmed black man being shot by a police officer, Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) was both demonized and deified by the opposing sides. The strength and accomplishment of Fruitvale Station is that it doesn’t take either of those positions. Instead, it depicts Oscar as a three-dimensional and flawed young man with an uncertain future who wants to be a better person. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that he has a prison record, sells marijuana, and hasn’t always been faithful to his girlfriend and mother of his child, Sophina (Melonie Diaz.) Oscar, who is fired for being late to work, also has a temper and we see it flare when he confronts his former boss about getting his job back.

But, like all human beings, Oscar has many sides. He’s a devoted and loving father to his four-year old daughter, aspires to be a good son to his mother (Octavia Spencer), and genuinely does love his girlfriend. Jordan, a standout since his days on The Wire delivers a performance that firmly establishes him as an A list actor. He naturally embodies Oscar and exposes the fear and doubt beneath his protective hard exterior as well as the playful, easygoing persona that he shared with friends and strangers alike. Continue reading »

I haven’t read the best selling book the movie The Help is based on. Nor have I paid much attention to the controversy about a White central character telling the story of black maids in Jackson, Mississippi. I can only judge the movie by what appears on screen.

You get the sense the audience is being manipulated. This is where you’re supposed to laugh; this is where you should cry. It feels like a paint by numbers movie lesson about the ills of racism that comes across as a bit shallow and sunny despite the subject matter. There is a moment in the film where you see a newspaper headline about the Freedom Riders who were pioneers in the civil rights movement. If you’ve seen the powerful and unforgettable PBS documentary about these real life heroes, The Help will come across as a flimsy and pale attempt at depicting a complex and disturbing issue that still reverberates today. Continue reading »

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