When 2013 Sundance favorite Fruitvale Station hits your theater next month, there may not be a dry eye in the house. At least there weren’t many on Tuesday evening at an MPAA-hosted screening of the drama. The MPAA welcomed the film’s young up-and-coming director, Ryan Coogler, to speak about his profoundly moving film and the true events that inspired it.
Karen Finney, host of MSNBC’s Disrupt with Karen Finney, joined Coogler to moderate a discussion about the critically acclaimed film, the impetus behind its production and the societal context of its powerful message.
Coogler is a director and screenwriter from the San Francisco Bay Area, where Fruitvale Station is set. He graduated from USC School of Cinematic Arts in 2011, where he directed several award-winning short films. Fruitvale Station, is Coogler’s debut into feature film, marking the 27-year-old director’s break into the big leagues. Fruitvale won both the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It was also screened at the Un Certain Regard section at this year's Cannes Film Festival and awarded the Prize of the Future.
The movie tells the true story of 22-year-old Oakland man Oscar Grant (played in the film by Michael B. Jordan), who was fatally shot by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer, while unarmed, at the Fruitvale subway station on New Year’s Day 2009. At the screening Tuesday, Coogler said the story of Grant, which deeply affected residents of the Bay Area, resonated with him due to his proximity to Grant and their shared experience as young, African American men growing up in the Bay Area. “I was born the same year as Oscar … If he were here today, he’d be 27 as I am right now,” Coogler said.
Coogler talked about Fruitvale Station’s focus on telling the story from Oscar’s perspective, which he said he hoped would afford viewers a chance to get to know Oscar on a more personal level. Coogler said the story-telling potential inherent in filmmaking is one of the things he loves most.
“Film can trigger empathy in you for characters that you haven’t met, and it’s kind of a way to have an out-of-body experience,” he said. “You get to live as somebody else; you get to see different perspectives.”
As Finney, MPAA Chairman and CEO Senator Chris Dodd and several audience members pointed out, Coogler’s success with Fruitvale Station comes at the early stages of his career. So what’s next for the young director? “I want to get better, improve and continue to work,” Coogler said. “What I really hope to do is continue to make films about subject matters that affect me on a personal level.”
Fruitvale Station stars Michael B. Jordan (The Wire), Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind), Kevin Durand (Dark Angel, Lost) and Octavia Spencer (The Help). The film, produced by Academy Award ®-winning actor Forest Whitaker, opens in select theaters July 12.
Karen Finney and Ryan Coogler
Ryan Coogler and Senator Chris Dodd
Photo Credit: Joy Asico