Fruitvale Station: Thoughts On Why You Don't Have To See It
Fruitvale Station hit movie theaters the same weekend the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was announced. I wanted to see it, had anticipated it before the trial was even scheduled, but just could not stomach the emotional & historic parallels in the theater. I spent that Saturday night at an annual cookout that has gone down in the "you don't dare miss this" category. That Saturday night, we ate & drank & danced until... For some reason, the DJ decided to pause the music to announce the verdict as it came through on some social media feed. Everyone there collectively inhaled & held their breaths. I remember thinking, "Welp, there you have it." The music suddenly felt disrespectful as I tried to understand what would even make someone think that a party atmosphere was a good place to drop such a heavy load. We're all connected someway or another through social media & news apps on our phones & would eventually run into it. Someone scrolling while sippin' on something would have come across it & shared it & it still would have spread like wildfire through the cookout, but the announcement felt rude & insensitive to my right NOT to have to be worried about Living While Black in that very moment.
Seeing Fruitvale Station was high on my list but I just was not prepared to grapple with those emotions while also dealing with yet another example of how expendable, how insignificant, how worthless Black life is in these United States of America. In hindsight, I wonder why it was high on my list. I need to understand this sense of responsibility to this pain, to continue to immerse myself in it, to feel it thoroughly on a cellular level. I don't go see every movie with a Black cast because I don't feel a responsibility to watch everything just because. What is it about movies like Fruitvale Station that make me feel like I must force myself to endure the pain of reliving this pain for perpetuity? The truth is, before Trayvon Martin was murdered, I had watched the cell phone footage from the police murder of Oscar Grant. I had already cried those tears. I had cried them with others, names we know that I shan't run down here because they make my mouth dry now. I had only months ago suffered through the Central Park Five documentary--twice--& waded through feelings of impotence, disgust, anger, & despair. The announcement of the Zimmerman verdict brought back ALL of those feelings & then some, making it really unnecessary to see Fruitvale at all. Like...at all.
That nagging sense of responsibility won. I was determined to see it so much so that I was prepared to see it alone. I let The Beau know I was going, invited him & others & almost did wind up seeing it by myself. The ending clearly wasn't a surprise because it's based on a true story. I KNEW Oscar Grant was going to be murdered & by whom & yet... The film portrayed him as a sweet, well meaning young man who made some stupid decisions in the name of taking care of his. Not a new story. I know several Oscar Grants & I'm sure you do too. You always pray that at some point they figure it out or life cuts them a break or they can manage long enough not to...die. Oscar Grant is my cousin Nicholas. Oscar Grant is too many of my students. Oscar Grant is the toddler boy with the beautiful round head & the stumpy body with the pacifier in his mouth walking outside the theater afterwards.
The film is easy going enough, with the end already spoiled. I knew Oscar was murdered on a train platform so when the movie finally builds to New Year's Eve on a train, I could feel my body tense up. A headache developed. I sat feeling helpless. There are several moments when I thought the pop of gunfire would occur & it didn't. It almost gave me the false hope that Oscar & his friends would be able to dust platform dirt off of their jeans & walk away. What happened was just so silly, could have turned dangerous but didn't get all the way out of hand. It was such an easy thing to deal with, in my non-police officer, Black folk lovin' mind. Tasers & guns were just so unnecessary. & then it happened. The moment where power & racism met firepower & time stood still & faces froze & there was screaming & my lips quivered & I developed nervous ticks & people on screen were reacting & I became Oscar's mother & girlfriend & daughter simultaneously & felt sick &...&...&...
When Oscar's body was carried off of the platform alive, I still managed to have unrealistic hope that he would pull through. I needed him to pull through. See, if he lived in the film then the aforementioned incarnations of Oscar Grant might make it too. I could stop worrying so much about my cousin, Nicholas, with his high IQ havin' ass. I could stop wishing he wore t-shirts that say "I'm well read" so folks looking at him could see beyond his height, his stature, his long locs, his Baltimore accent, his style of dress & KNOW like I KNOW how intelligent the young man is. If he opened his eyes, hand in his mama's hand in a hospital recovery room, the little stumpy toddler with the paci in his mouth would have a greater chance at being. If he opened his eyes, hand in his mama's hand in a hospital recovery room, I wouldn't have to continue to feel his mother's pain, his daughter's pain, or his girlfriend's pain, & I wouldn't have to ask what it's like to be the mother of a Black boy child.
That was my take away. I was further steeped in questions. Who else in the whole world lives like this? In other places in the world, it looks like they're clear when living under civil unrest. They seem to know that they live in a war zone. They know when they have no rights because it is stated blatantly enough for others around the world to know clearly what rights people have in various global locations. We can speak about their systems of government sanctioned oppression with sympathy & empathy. We have people called insurgents identified for us & recognize the "good" guys & "bad" guys by the color of their uniforms, formal & informal. But here? Here, those of us who don't read or watch or think critically, have been lulled into the belief that we are free, that we have basic human rights. The right to purchase, & even that depends on what & where, has confused us into believing that we have arrived. Who else in the whole world lives in disguised wartime conditions that has lasted centuries & under what Washington Post writer, Ann Hornaday, calls the psychological weight of the "anxiety tax"? The anxiety tax is even deeper than she points to in her piece but it helps you understand, if you weren't already clear, how heavy this shit is. Who else suffers the potential fear finding out the joy of childbirth has produced a son, a Black son? Who else has to figure out how to raise said son to walk in his power while also not being intimidating in order to prolong his life?
Sitting in the theater as the credits ran, I was unable to move. & then I was unable to stay & walked out of there with much unidentified purpose. I couldn't speak. & then I tried to drive & then I couldn't because the glare of street lamps on tears slow to fall were affecting my ability to drive safely. Then I spoke but could barely hear my voice & couldn't figure out how to raise it. & then I needed conversation so my mind could focus somewhere else. & I cried intermittently throughout. & my tears are welling up again as I type these words. & I still don't. know. what. to. do.
So, I've seen it. & now I must try to find a way to end this sense of responsibility to putting myself through these experiences. I need to stop reading these stories. I need to stop watching this footage. I need to stop seeing these movies because I cannot live vicariously like this while also living like this in real time. THIS double life is NOT the bizness.
See Fruitvale Station at your own risk.