A film about the final day of Oscar Grant III’s life won over audiences and judges alike at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
“Fruitvale” depicts the true story of Grant, who was 22 years old when he was shot and killed by a police officer at Oakland’s Fruitvale BART station early New Year’s Day in 2009. First-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler wrote and directed the dramatic narrative.
“This project was about humanity, about human beings and how we treat each other; how we treat the people that we love the most, and how we treat the people that we don’t know,” the 26-year-old said Saturday as he accepted the final prize of the night, the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic. “This goes back to my home, to the Bay Area, where Oscar Grant lived, breathed, slept, loved, fought, had fun and survived for 22 years.”
Fox Searchlight founder and Sundance juror Tom Rothman said “Fruitvale” was recognized for “its skillful realization, its devastating emotional impact and its moral and social urgency — and for anyone out there who thinks for one second that movies don’t matter and can’t make a difference in the world.”
The film also won the Audience Award for best drama. Earlier in the festival, the Weinstein Co. acquired the rights to distribute “Fruitvale.”
Coogler said he felt personally connected to the story because he’s from Oakland and was born the same year as Grant.
The film follows Grant in the hours leading up to his death. Grant was played by actor Michael B. Jordan, who is known for roles in “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights.”
Grant, a Hayward father, was fatally shot by former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle as he lay facedown on the station platform. Grant was unarmed.
The incident was witnessed by many people, and cellphone footage of it was widely circulated. Grant’s death caused widespread outrage as well as protests and riots in Oakland. It also led to reforms within the BART police force.
Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2010. He was sentenced to two years in prison and released in 2011 due to credit for time served.
Mehserle testified that he intended to use a stun gun but accidentally drew his revolver instead.