Topics in History: History through Film

A Southport student review of the 2012 movie Fruitvale Station

Topics is a course at Southport High School taught by Kevin Sanders that analyzes major events from United States and world history through Hollywood films that attempt to portray those events. Students investigate historical documents and other sources to determine if a film is historically accurate.

The goal is for students to develop deeper understandings of the historical discipline while generating questions about the way the world is around them, along with watching classical films that have graced American and international screens.

Student: Juan Havvard

Film Reviewed: Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station is a movie that was based on a true story and directed by Ryan Coogler. This movie portrays many injustices that black communities face in the modern era. What was so historic about this movie was the depiction of the deeper layers of race in America that is tragically and brutally shown through certain cinematic techniques and the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant.

Oscar was recently fired from his job and tries to create a way of living for his daughter and girlfriend’s sake; he tries to avoid selling drugs for income. He lies to his girlfriend’s face and fails to get his job back, but overall he keeps it pushing and does what’s best for his family. Not only that but the character is a genuine and caring person at heart, but because of his appearance and past, he is labeled as a thug. No company will hire him, and his girlfriend’s mother wishes her daughter had nothing to do with him. He puts on an act for his daughter when deep down he’s struggling with depression and the urge to sell drugs in order to provide for his family. Sadly, Oscar is shot and murdered by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle. His old life had caught up to him. A former gang member who had issues with Oscar boarded the same train as they rode downtown which led to an altercation, and police were called. The police were suspicious of Oscar and his friends because of their skin color. An ignorant cop put cuffs on Oscar, who resists, and ultimately was shot dead.

The film techniques made me sympathize for Oscar. The close-ups were mostly of his face during difficult situations and detailed how hurt Oscar was, although the close-ups occurred mostly when Oscar was previously seen happy. The close-ups remind us that Oscar still lives with this pain no matter when he is happy or pretends to be for the sake of his family. One of the final close-ups was of his face when he was shot by the police. It served as a reminder of his pain, but this close-up was also to let us know that he passed.

Another technique used was ambient lighting, a light that covers something. The lighting shone upon what he cared for most – his daughter as they played, and he was filled with euphoria. The technique reminds us that Oscar had a family, people to live for. It’s very disappointing that the BART police would do this to another human being. This movie was outstanding; it portrayed the injustices that the black community face.