In this age of sensory overload and oversimplification, of people being vilified or martyred for one cause or another, it was refreshing to see a film that did not do any of the above. Ryan Coogler debuts his directorial skills with a compassionate representation of the complexities and contradictions that exist within any modern day human being, but even more so within Grant, an African American young man struggling to break the cycle of poverty and learning how to navigate his ‘hood for survival while adapting to mainstream culture for success, all while trying his best to be a great father, boyfriend, and son.
Being a Bay Area native, sitting in the packed Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, CA on a Friday night to watch this movie inspired by true events felt truly surreal. I clearly remember watching TV on New Years Day 2009, shocked by the news of how Grant’s life was recklessly taken by a BART officer. At that time, I was living in San Diego, completing grad school and was missing the Bay Area- infamous for its radical and progressive activism- so much on that day, knowing that it would inevitably explode in protests and riots once this news hit the streets…
My favorite part of the movie was how it highlighted the simple precious moments between Grant and his pre-school aged daughter, such as brushing their teeth together, her excitement at getting picked up from pre-school by her father, and the pure, innocent joy they shared racing to the family car.
Another aspect of this well-made movie that impressed me was how it showed-subtle yet skillfully, the code-switching required for survival between mainstream society and the rough neighborhoods many of us have been forced to grow up in due to the cycle of poverty caused by the tragic history of racism in this country. Although everyone in that theater knew how his story ended, I bet we all appreciated gaining insight into the human being Oscar Grant was, for his life and death was definitely not in vain. It has sparked and/or re-energized a light within many of us that will never be able to be killed or destroyed.