Hi folks, Pop Goddess is back after a 2-year hiatus! My husband and I now have a 1 ½ -year-old baby boy, so that means all the movies I watch have to be on-demand on TV, and I’m a lot more particular about the pop culture I do invest my time in (Mr. Robot, you’re solid but I can live without you; Orphan Black, I know I should be addicted but I’m just not there yet; Jane the Virgin, love you!). Hey, I only have about an hour every day to watch TV/movies, so it has to be worth it!
Speaking of worth it, I finally watched Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler’s film about Oscar Grant III, the young black man fatally shot by a BART police officer in 2009. I’d heard great things about it, and I love Michael B. Jordan from Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. But I also knew the movie would be challenging to watch. It is, but it’s also a great showcase for Jordan and a testament to Coogler’s talents as a writer and director. In a compact 90-some minutes, spanning the course of a single day, Coogler paints a compelling portrait of Oscar, his challenges and flaws, his sincere efforts to be a better person and a good father and son. It’s impressive that Coogler doesn’t portray Oscar as a saint or “good” victim, but still leaves us heartbroken at his killing and at the grief it causes his mother (an excellent Octavia Spencer), girlfriend, and daughter. Coogler only has the narrative space of a day to establish Oscar’s personal relationships and sense of family, but he does it with such warmth and humanity that we fully grasp his family’s immense loss.
Coogler is clear-eyed, but not didactic, about the systemic challenges that limit Oscar and the implicit biases that lead to his killing. There’s a quiet exchange that highlights the difference between how we treat young white men and young black and brown men who might make similar mistakes in life. During New Year’s Eve celebrations, Oscar chats with Peter, a white man, about how he doesn’t want to propose to his girlfriend when he doesn’t have any money. Peter admits that he had no money when he proposed to his girlfriend and that he actually used stolen credit card information to buy an engagement ring. “Now I have my own business and bought her a new ring with my own money,” he says. We don’t know the details, but clearly Peter has benefitted from white privilege – the benefit of the doubt, second chances and employment opportunities that Oscar, a young black man with a prison record, doesn’t have. Peter gives Oscar his business card; we can imagine that Oscar might have called him in the New Year, that he might have gotten a steady job and might have succeeded in escaping the history of his struggles and crimes. Heartbreakingly, that potential and possibility are snuffed out in a fog of confusion, bias, and abusive power.