Fruitvale Station and the Notion of Cultural Obligations

 

 

I believe in cultural obligations. This is something that my mother taught me at a very young age. I had to be about 8 years old when Young Guns II came out in the movie theater.  It was the sequel to the completely awesome and rendition to the story of Billy the Kidd starring Emilio Estevez and Lou Diamond Phillips. Needless to say I was pretty excited about it. Back in those days my mother would take my siblings and me to the movie theater about four times a year. So I was super stoked that we were getting a chance to go while this highly anticipated film was still showing. Even though I was in the 3rd grade there was never a time in my life when I couldn’t watch rated R movies so naturally I recommended that we all watch the gun-toting western together. My older brother had different intentions.

“We should watch Mo Better Blues,” he told my mother.

“What! That stupid jazz movie? Don’t nobody want to see that crap. It looks hecka boring,” I protested from the back seat.

“It’s a Spike Lee joint,” he said with passive authority.

“So what it’s gone be boring,” I continued on.

My mother probably weighed the options for about a quarter of a second.

“We’re going to see Mo Better Blues,” she said in her ‘and that’s that voice.’

I was pissed and the most I could do about it was suck my teeth. I suffered through what seemed like five hours of music with no words and multiple hardcore sex scenes. Well the sex scenes weren’t bad but I would have much rather seen Billy the Kid and The Regulators kill all those backstabbing hypocrites that were trying to run them out-of-town. I didn’t understand it at the time but my mother was teaching me a very valuable lesson. Black people are obligated to support other black people even when it hurts. And while I was sitting in that theater watching Wesley Snipes, Spike Lee, and Denzel Washington get into debates about issues that I couldn’t care less about, it REALLY HURT. After the movie was over she spoke to me about our responsibility as black folk. She told me that if we don’t look out for one another then no one else will and I got it. Very reluctantly, I got it.

 

Now several years later I sit here in front of my house composing this entry a day before the release of Fruitvale Station a story about the life and tragic death of Oscar Grant. To be straight up about it, I really don’t want to watch it. And that’s not because I don’t think it will be a good film because I think it’s going to be great. As a matter of fact last Saturday I actually met a brotha that plays a role in the movie. No it’s not that, the thing is the incidents that are chronicled in the movie are still extremely painful for me.

 

I was one of the thousands of people who marched through the streets of Oakland demanding justice for Mr. Grant after he was shot in the back by transit cops as he lay down in handcuffs on New Years Eve of 2009. I AM OSCAR GRANT was the slogan and when I said it I meant it. Because I have been to the Fruitvale BART Station several times, because he had a daughter the exact same age as mine, because I went through a phase in which I had no idea where my life was going, and because we were both young black men growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area I empathized with him completely.  I wrote about it extensively. I became enraged about it and ultimately depressed when Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to only two years for Oscar Grant’s murder. This isn’t like a movie on Fred Hampton or Ghandi—No, this is something that I actually lived through. It’s not even old enough to be historical.

 

But alas Fruitvale Station is a black movie. It was produced by Forrest Whitaker and directed by another young black man named Ryan Coogler. It also stars Octavia Spencer and was of course filmed in my hometown of Oakland, CA. But I still do not want to watch the movie. It bothers me that the Black American experience is so saturated with pain that even our leisure activities induce a certain amount of trauma. Why is awareness always a tragedy in the mind of the young black man? The story of Oscar Grant like the story of Trayvon Martin reminds me that my life is completely dispensable and I’m torn because part of me does not want to revisit that moment but another part of me knows that I can never actually leave that reality.

 

Whether I want to acknowledge it or not does not make racism less prevalent. Even when I’m eating my ice cream at the creamery, viewing art at the museum, or smelling lavender roses at the rose garden, racism is always lurking. I realize that I try to run from my issues as often as possible. I don’t want to confront the pain of my subconscious mind just like I don’t want to deal with my emotions. I feel like the film Fruitvale Station is guaranteed to make me confront both and even worse it will make me confront both of these untapped entities in a very public setting.

 

Tomorrow is the local release date of the film. I won’t see it tomorrow but I will see it before it leaves the theater. And it won’t be because I heard good things about it or because I feel like I need to learn more about the life of Oscar Grant but it will only be because I feel like it is my duty as an African-American to support the film. I will support the film because that’s the way I was raised.

-YB

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