The Story Behind Fruitvale Station 

Slate's Culture Blog
May 13 2013 1:03 PM

The Story Behind Fruitvale Station 

fruitvale station
Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station

Photo by ©2013 - The Weinstein Company.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2009, police responded to reports of an altercation on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train in Oakland. Not long after, 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who had been celebrating New Years Eve in San Francisco, was shot dead by police officer Johannes Mehserle while being detained along with his friends on the subway platform of the Fruitvale station. Amid Bay Area protests of police brutality and racial profiling, the event and the ensuing trial received national attention. The name Oscar Grant has joined Rodney King and Amadou Diallo as a byword for the tense relationship between law enforcement and minorities.

Aisha Harris Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

Shot on location in Oakland, Fruitvale Station, the feature debut of director Ryan Coogler, takes place on the last day of Grant’s life. It received rapturous reviews—and the Grand Jury Prize—at Sundance, and is set to premiere in the heart of Oscar season. The trailer, just released, strikes an appropriately ominous tone from the beginning, and is bookended by the chaotic events of that night. In between we are introduced to the key players in the story, including Octavia Spencer as his mother Wanda and Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend Sophina.


Coogler, an Oakland native, recalls hearing about the news of the incident from friends that night. “It was just horrifying,” Coogler has said of the shooting. “He looked like us; I mean that could’ve been any one of us there.” Star Michael B. Jordan, who plays Grant, has echoed similar sentiments: “It’s something that gets you upset. It could’ve been me. It could’ve been my brother. It could’ve been one of my friends.”

Judging from the trailer and the early reviews, that’s the message the movie aims to get across, to humanize the victim at the center of the story. “Sometimes when you’re a victim of a shooting, you know, with a police officer involved, the media and everybody wants to take your character and pull it in a million different directions,” Jordan has said of the man he plays. “They want to pull up every traffic ticket, every class you ditched in elementary school, you know... Then you have people that are on the complete opposite spectrum that want to paint you to be this perfect saint, and that wasn’t true either.”

As for the police officer, Johannes Mehserle, who is also at the center of the story, he does not seem to figure into the movie much at all. His name—as well as the name of Anthony Pirone, one of the other officers involved in the incident—does not appear on the movie’s IMDb page; in the trailer, we just get a glimpse of the officer’s face as things spiral out of control. Mehserle, who claimed he meant to tase Grant rather than shoot him, was eventually fired and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He served one year of a two-year sentence, angering many supporters of Grant and his family.

The moments on the train platform appear to hew closely to the actual incident, which was captured on several cell phones from different angles by bystanders. Reportedly, the movie opens with some of that footage. You can watch one of those cell phone videos below, but be warned that the footage, while not graphic, is very upsetting to watch. With an opening like this, I can only imagine how powerful and unsettling the rest of the film might be.


Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company


How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
Business Insider
Sept. 18 2014 3:31 PM What Europe Would Look Like If All the Separatist Movements Got Their Way
Sept. 18 2014 3:24 PM Symantec Removes Its “Sexual Orientation” Filter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 3:04 PM Pogo Returns With Another Utterly Catchy Disney Remix
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 2:39 PM Here's How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.