Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and the Weinstein Company are partnering on an ambitious series of film and television projects about Trayvon Martin. The indie label and the rap icon won a heated bidding war for the rights to two books — “Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It” and “Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin.” The 2012 shooting of the 17 year-old Martin sparked a national debate about racial profiling and inequities of the criminal justice system that brought about the Black Lives Matter movement.
The African-American high school student was killed by George Zimmerman, 28, who was a member of the neighborhood watch in his Florida community. He claimed he shot Martin, who was unarmed, in self defense after the two became involved in a physical altercation. Zimmerman’s acquittal on a second-degree murder charge inspired protests around the country.
“Suspicion Nation” is by Lisa Bloom and recounts her experience covering the trial for NBC. She looks at the mistakes made by prosecutors that caused them to lose what she describes as a “winnable case.” “Rest in Power” is by Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. It tells a more personal story, looking at Martin’s childhood and the aftermath of his death.
The plan is to make a six-part docu-series with Jay Z producing as part of a first-look deal he signed with the studio last September. The indie studio will also develop a narrative feature film. The Weinstein Company earned critical raves for “Fruitvale Station,” another true story, about the death of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man who was killed in 2009 by a BART police officer.
On August 22, almost two weeks after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Columbia University professor Fredrick Harris titled “Will Ferguson be a moment or a movement?”
I started working on my piece about the new era of black activism (which you can read here) months ago, and so I read Harris’s op-ed with the same level of irritation that made me want to write that piece in the first place. Not that there isn’t any value in what Harris wrote, because there certainly is. But if you’re asking the question “Where is the movement?” you simply haven’t been paying attention.
“A moment of trauma can oftentimes present you with an opportunity to do something about the situation to prevent that trauma from happening again,” Charlene Carruthers, national coordinator for Black Youth Project 100, told me in an interview for that piece, and the millennial generation has been presented with trauma after trauma. The killing of Sean Bell, the over-prosecution of the Jena Six, the killing of Oscar Grant, the killing of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, the killing of Trayvon Martin and so many more moments that may not have captured the national media attention but those events have defined the late adolescence and early adulthood of black folks of the millennial generation. As part of that demographic, let me say: the trauma has been fucking exhausting.
So, too, has been the haranguing from older generations that we have been too apathetic, that we have been too “post-racial,” that we have not done our part in upholding the legacy of the civil-rights movement. And so I wanted to write a corrective to that narrative, as I’ve seen my generation take up the fight and organize and begin along the hard road to movement building. It’s happening at this very moment. It was happening before Michael Brown was killed.
Harris writes: “What may keep Ferguson from becoming a national transformative event is if “justice” is narrowly confined to seeking relief for Brown and his family. If the focus is solely on the need for formal charges against Wilson, a fair trial, a conviction, a wrongful-death lawsuit—rather than seeing those things as part of a broader movement that tackles stand-your-ground laws, the militarization of local police, a requirement that cameras be worn by police on duty and the need for a comprehensive federal racial-profiling law. If justice remains solely personal, rather than universal.”
As everyone knows, the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the unrest, protests and investigations that continue to unfold in the wake of this tragedy are mightily affecting (and hopefully redefining) the national conversation on racism, abuses of power and overbearing, militarized police action against citizens.
As the editor of a website dedicated solely to providing and promoting Good Black News, it has been admittedly hard in the past week to bring myself to post what were starting to seem like frivolous accomplishments and events in the wake of a soul-stirring grass roots movement against tyranny and injustice. This unrest in particular feels like it has the makings of a sea change from the status quo into a new era of human rights, where systemic and commonplace brutality is voted down and rooted out of any and all policing bodies that are meant to Protect and Serve, not Terrify and Dehumanize.
But, even though the eventual outcome could lead to something positive, how can any of what is happening day-to-day (tear gassing, unprovoked arrests, pockets of protester violence, autopsy results) qualify as Good Black News? But not posting anything about Ferguson did not feel right, either. Thus, aside from a few tweets, GBN has been silent for days.
Upon serious thought and reflection, I’ve come to believe that publishing Good Black News is more important and necessary than ever. The achievements of people of color are still woefully under-publicized and reported, and the only way to change minds or inspire pride in those who internalize the “less than” narrative, is to keep putting as much GBN out there as possible.
Thus, going forward, in addition to our regular mix of GBN, we will also post items, tweets, stories and pictures that cover the Ferguson story — the GBN philosophy will still be in place and nothing will be incendiary or negative — in fact, non-violent protest, speaking out, photos, tweets and the like that continue to highlight the injustices still prevalent in this country ARE, in my opinion, Good Black News. Granted, nothing will bring back Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant or countless others who have suffered the same unjust fate, but positive, insistent protests and actions do have the power to prevent the next young man or woman of color from being victimized, and that we uncategorically and unreservedly support.
Onward and upward —
Lori Lakin Hutcherson, GBN Founder and Editor-In-Chief
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court says Oscar Grant’s father can sue the Northern California transit officer who shot and killed his son on a train platform. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected former officer Johannes Mehserle’s claim that he was acting in his official capacity when he killed the younger Grant during a 2009 New Year’s Day melee captured on video by several bystanders.
Violent demonstrations ensued after the videos showing the white officer shooting the unarmed black man were viewed by millions online. The appeals court said it’s up to a jury to determine whether Mehserle was justified in shooting Grant in the back as he lay face down on the train platform. Mehserle served 11 months in prison after he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The appeals court’s decision affirmed a lower court ruling.
FRUITVALE STATION Cast: Michael B. Jordan (Oscar Grant), Octavia Spencer (Wanda), Melonie Diaz (Sophina), Ariana Neal (Tatiana), Kevin Durand (Officer Caruso), Chad Michael Murray (Officer Ingram),Ahna O’Reilly (Katie) Written & Directed by: Ryan Coogler Rated: R The Weinstein Co.
I intended to write this review two weeks ago, when I saw Fruitvale Station in limited release. Two things occurred to prevent that – one ordinary: my babysitter cancelled, so bye bye writing time – and one extraordinary: George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin the very next day.
In the wake of the national outrage and protests and vigils, I thought my review of Fruitvale Station couldn’t help but be greatly affected. But as the film goes into wide release on 1,064 screens today, I realize I feel exactly the same about the film as I did two Fridays ago. Put plainly, Fruitvale Station is the most riveting, artfully-told, written, directed and acted movie of the year, it should win 2013 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director, and every adult living should immediately make all efforts to see this movie and receive a mind-and-heart-altering reminder that every single person alive, no matter what sex, creed, color or age, has humanity that deserves recognition and respect.
The basics of the story are probably already known to most: Bay Area-based writer/director Ryan Coogler was deeply moved by the tragic shooting of fellow Bay Area native Oscar Grant, a 22 year-old black man who was killed at the Fruitvale BART Station by police on New Year’s Day 2009. Coogler wanted to show what Grant’s last day of life was like, so people would see not just a victim or a thug, but who and how Oscar really was. And not just the good or misunderstood parts of Oscar, but also the bad, the funny, the sweet and the ugly – and know he was a vibrant, complex being who in no way deserved the callous and all-too-common fate he received.
The movie opens stunningly with real cellphone footage of Oscar Grant’s murder. If you’ve never seen it before (which I hadn’t), it is gutting. I involuntarily burst into tears – I was just so sad and angry and shocked at the injustice – it took a lot to pull myself back into the movie and get to know Oscar in life as viscerally as I did in death. As much as it smarts, Coogler’s choice to start the film this way is brilliant, because it communicates powerfully the underlying truth of what’s to unfold – you may be watching a movie, but do not ever forget – THIS WAS REAL.
Fruitvale then segues into off-screen dialogue between Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) much earlier that morning. She is upset with Oscar because of an infidelity he tries in vain to explain away. As they get their young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) ready for school, we learn Oscar is a sweet, loving and permissive father (he sneaks his daughter the extra snack her mom said she couldn’t have) who sells dope sometimes to make ends meet.
As we continue with Oscar through the challenges and banality of his morning (stretching the gas in his tank before filling up, texting his Mom “Happy Birthday”, dropping his girlfriend off at work, picking up food for his mom’s party, worrying about rent) we learn he’s been in and out of prison several times and is struggling to get it together. Oscar, mind-blowingly portrayed and embodied by Jordan, comes off as equal parts charismatic, tough, caring and desperate. In one moment he is helping a customer in the deli where he worked figure out how to cook fish by putting her on the phone with his Grandma Bonnie; the next he is defiantly demanding/begging his ex-boss to rehire him. When he doesn’t get his job back, Oscar immediately plays it off with a co-worker, lies with a smile, and acts like it’s all good.
The code switching Oscar goes through in this one day – the subtly different-yet-specific ways he behaves and speaks with his daughter, his mom, his sister, girlfriend, his homies, his boss – is, I think, the key revelation of the film, and why this story is connecting with audiences everywhere. Oscar Grant, the young, black, ex-convict drug dealer is, surprisingly, an everyperson, dealing with the same contradictory bundle of human dynamics, dramas and relationships we all do.
When Oscar makes a pivotal choice to change his life mid-way through the film (after reflecting on time he spent in jail), he drops his tough-guy mask and confesses to Sophina that he lost his day job and has taken himself out of the dope game. When Sophina starts to go in on him (understandably – it’s clear she’s been through a lot with him), her strength and humanity shine through when a few beats later she forgives and supports him despite the immediate hardship his actions are creating. Diaz is perfect in this underplayed moment – Sophina, more than anybody, sees the vulnerable Oscar and whether or not she fully believes in his potential, she loves and respects him enough to support him on his stilted journey towards betterment.
A lot more happens in the movie before we get to the fateful moment on the BART platform at Fruitvale on New Year’s Eve 2008/New Year’s Day 2009, but truly, instead of reading a summary of it here, you should just go see it for yourself. Do let me say though that Octavia Spencer, who plays Oscar’s mother Wanda… well, what she does in the movie is beyond deserving another Oscar (which, of course, she does). She should open up acting clinics and teach other actors how real people actually behave in extreme circumstances. If the viewers I was in the theatre with weren’t crying before, the way Spencer reacts to the news of Oscar’s death and her subsequent viewing of his body in the hospital caused an all-out, audible sob fest.
From beginning to end, the whole movie feels authentic, without a shred of manipulation. Though there is definite filmmaking throughout Fruitvale Station and filmic choices being made, they are seamless and only enhance the raw power and poignancy of the story. Even at a relatively short running time of 1 hour 30 minutes, I came out of the theater feeling as if I’d lived another life. And I did. I lived Oscar Grant’s life and was deeply, sorely sad it was gone. And the great thing – I wasn’t alone. The whole audience felt it for 90 minutes – black, white, male, female, young, old – we all felt like we were Oscar Grant.
New York, NY – July 15, 2013 – The Weinstein Company (TWC) announced today the special FRUITVALE STATION: The Story of Oscar Grant, a behind the scenes look at the making of the film, will premiere exclusively on BET Networks on Monday, July 15, 2013 from 7:30 – 8:00 P.M. ET/PT. The special will also re-air on CENTRIC on Friday, July 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The full-length film opened to limited release on July 12, 2013 to rave reviews and tremendous box office success, and tells the real-life story of Oscar Grant played by rising star Michael B. Jordan. Monday’s making-of special will trace the remarkable journey of this film from production to Sundance to Cannes and now in theaters across the country. TWC is proud to collaborate with BET who has championed this film from its very beginning starting with the Sundance Film Festival. BET recognized early on the importance of director Ryan Coogler’s feature debut film and the significance of Oscar Grant’s story. They have shown tremendous support for the film including – the BET Experience screening in late June, featuring the film and its star Michael B. Jordan at the BET Awards earlier this month, partnering with TWC on the film’s New York premiere on July 8th, and online features onBET.com.
The opening of Fruitvale Station on the same weekend as the Trayvon Martin trial concluded was certainly not planned on purpose. But the similarity of the two high-profile shootings was a potent reminder for the Weinstein Co. pickup, which scored the weekend’s highest per-screen average of nearly $54,000 from seven locations, including the sold-out Grand Lake theater in Oakland, Calif.
“Obviously, we had no idea of what would be going on at the time we dated the movie, but it’s very topical,” said Weinstein distribution topper Erik Lomis, referring to Saturday’s acquittal of Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watchman, in Sanford, Fla. “It’s hard to watch this film and not be moved,” Lomis added.
Fruitvale Station is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man in Oakland, who was shot and killed by a BART police officer in 2009. The film, which stars Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer, sold out Friday night and Saturday evening screenings at the Oakland location, as well as at the Arclight Hollywood and the Angelika in New York.
LOS ANGELES — On March 21, 2012, the state of Alabama officially proclaimed “Octavia Spencer Day” for the native daughter who had captured the nation’s attention and a supporting-actress Oscar for her role as Minny in The Help weeks earlier.
The Montgomery native was granted stretch pink limousine service, slammed down the state Legislature gavel and heard a hometown marching band play a song in her honor. But after that Spencer, 43, stopped accepting accolades for her work.
“It’s hard to outdo a day in my honor, so I kind of wanted that to be the ultimate moment. I didn’t go beyond that,” Spencer says. “At some point you have to stop. I’d be running around accepting things, then I’d get rusty for the work.”
That’s not likely to happen. She is re-emerging with a vengeance, starting with her co-starring role in Fruitvale Station (opening wide on Friday), which garnered top honors at January’s Sundance Film Festival. The film by 27-year-old writer/director Ryan Coogler is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area who was shot by police on New Year’s Day 2009.
According to Deadline.com, Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights) stars in Fruitvale Station as Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old Bay Area man whose fatal 2009 shooting by Oakland BART police sparked outrage and protests against police brutality. The Weinstein Co. secured the rights to Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut out of Sundance for $2 million before it won the film festival’s U.S. Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. Now the movie is set for a July 12 release, hoping to attract attention for awards season. Check out the trailer above.
Ryan Coogler accepts the Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic for Fruitvale onstage at the Awards Night Ceremony during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at Basin Recreation Field House on January 26, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — The dramatic film “Fruitvale” and the documentary “Blood Brother” won over audiences and Sundance Film Festival judges. Both American films won audience awards and grand jury prizes Saturday at the Sundance Awards.
“Fruitvale” is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, who was 22 years old when he was shot and killed in a public transit station in Oakland, California. First-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler wrote and directed the dramatic narrative.