Fruitvale Station: Were The Changes From Script to Movie Effective?

Fruitvale Station – Script vs. Movie and Overall Thoughts

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Writer and Director: Ryan Coogler

*****WARNING: SPOILERS GALORE*****

Yesterday I finally had the pleasure of reading the Fruitvale Station script. Afterwards, I watched the movie on Netflix streaming. (I always prefer to read the script or novel first before seeing the movie, if possible). Writer and director, Ryan Coogler, has made a thoughtful, poetic, and important film that should not be missed.

Based on real events,  Fruitvale Station is the story of a young twenty-two-year-old black male who was shot by the police on New Years Day, 2009. I remember when this happened. It was a scary time, even though the incident happened in Northern California, not Southern California, where I live. I remember feeling what has now become a familiar feeling – that black physical survival in this country is still a roll of the dice. One’s fate as a person of color is not strictly related to one’s activities. To some extent, it is subject to the whims of armed members of the majority culture.

The movie forces one to ponder the “what-ifs” and the “if-only’s” of life. What if he had stayed home, as he and his daughter desired? What if he had driven, like he initially wanted to, instead of taking the subway, as his mother suggested? What if he had avoided the overly crowded subway car and taken the next one? What if Katie hadn’t seen him and called out his name, arousing the interest of his rival, Cale, with his gang of thugs? What if? What if? What if? This aspect of the movie delivers a haunting sense of reality. We can all relate to how often we do this in real life. We second-guess our past decisions based upon impossible-to-foresee outcomes.

The movie is not only realistic, however. It has a sense of poetry. The clearest example of this is the scene with the stray pit bull. The pit bull pre-figures Oscar’s own fate. The pit bull is a feared dog, one with a scary reputation. However, Oscar calls this lovely dog over to him and they play together like old friends. The pit bull is then mowed down by a speeding car. The car doesn’t even bother to slow down, let alone stop. Despite Oscar’s screaming for help, no one comes, and the poor dog dies in the street. I won’t insult you by explaining the parallels between Oscar’s fate and this dog’s. Incidentally, the officer who ended Oscar’s life spent all of eleven months in prison.

Other poetic elements involved some of the shots themselves. For example, when the subway left to take Oscar and his friends to San Francisco, we never saw the characters enter. They passed us by and entered off-screen. The camera stayed on a medium/distant shot of the back part of the train as it pulled away. You couldn’t tell from that distance that there was even anyone on the train. It was an odd, rather spooky image. There is an emptiness, or perhaps, a resignation to it. Oscar’s fate is in motion. On the subway ride back, during which the incident occurred, we are close up on the subway as the windows blur past us. It is like watching someone’s life pass before their eyes.

There is also the recurring reference to Oprah Winfrey in the film. In the script, Oscar’s uncles have a discussion about President Obama’s election and what that means. However, that conversation didn’t make it into the movie. When the grandmother is watching television with little Tatiana, they are watching a tele-novella in the script. However, in the movie, they are watching Oprah. In the movie, Oprah serves as an ironic contrast between seeming black uber-success and the still-precarious nature of ordinary black males’ existences. In the script, President Obama’s election serves the same purpose. By using Oprah rather than Obama in the movie, Coogler may be expressing an opinion on the level of danger this country poses towards black males versus black females. If so, I think the tragic incidents involving Sandra Bland, and so many others, contradict that notion. Neither gender is safe.

The other differences in the film between the script and the movie were fairly minor. Oscar’s reactions are angrier in two important scenes: one where his mother refuses to keep visiting him in jail, and the other when his former boss refuses to give him his job back. Perhaps this was done to make Oscar less of a victim and show his rage at his unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps it was done to explain his desperation at the subway station to resolve matters quickly with the cops and go home. There are many other little changes. But one of the most poignant was the end.

The script ends with Oscar’s girlfriend trying to explain heaven to their daughter, Tatiana. In real life, kids tend to see through these weak efforts on the part of adults to cushion the blow of death. Accordingly, in the movie, Coogler dispensed with the heaven talk. The movie ends with poor little Tatiana asking repeatedly “Where’s daddy?” The now-single mother, Sophina, has no answer.

Aside from Coogler’s stellar writing and directing, credit must be given to Michael B. Jordan’s stellar performance as Oscar Grant. Incidentally, Jordan did an even better job as Adonis in Coogler’s current film, Creed. I am excited to see what kinds of stories these artists bring to life for us in the future. If you have a chance, please do not miss Fruitvale Station (or Creed)!

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