It’s been a couple of weeks since I saw Fruitvale Station now, the acclaimed film about the last 24 hours of the life of Oscar Grant, a young Oakland, CA man who was murdered in cold blood and in front of many witnesses by a BART cop back in 2009. I went to see it without thinking much about that decision; I knew it was out, that it was a film that addressed the endemic police brutality that people of color – and particularly Black men and masculine-presenting Black folks – face, and that I wanted to watch it, so I just looked up the showtimes and, with my partner, made my way. At the theater I ran into an acquaintance, and we quickly began to talk about what each of us were there to watch. “Yeah…” she trailed off after I told her what we were watching, “I’m gonna wait till I can watch that at home.”
As the credits rolled and the film closed, I understood that feeling – I felt as though I had been run over by a truck. I was an openly-bawling mess, face in my partner’s comforting lap; it became clear that I had not given much thought to the emotional toll that seeing the film would take. I mean, the way the film ends is not exactly a surprise. But what I glossed over when I made the decision to go to the theater that night were the wounds that it would open up. You see, it’s been less than a year since the loss of a beloved community member and friend, Brandon Lacy Campos. And since that time, Brandon is not the only Black man in my life that has died too young. This year has seen the loss of two Black men in my life – queer, Afro-Latino men – and though neither died at the hands of the police, both of their deaths were marked by connections to the myriad ways that the world is hostile to Black and brown masculinity.
Though the circumstances of Oscar’s life and death were different from theirs, watching this film resurfaced some of the feelings I try not to think about. In particular, watching this film re-surfaced a crippling fear – fear for the Black and brown men in my life, fear for my queer & trans of color besties and comrades, the debilitating fear of a nagging, horrible question: who’s next? And yet, though living with that fear is indeed an indicator of a huge injustice, the very fact that I am ever able to keep it below the surface – that it is not an active part of my daily existence, that I am not in constant fear – points to the huge amount of privilege that comes with this light skin of mine.
As a reproductive justice activist, the final scene of the film hit me especially hard. Oscar’s mother looking at the body of her dead son, who just hours before she had advised to take public transit so that he would be safe. It made me think about the part of reproductive justice that’s not just about being able to have the kids you want to have and not have those you don’t, but the part that’s about being able to raise the kids folks do have with dignity and safety. It made me think of how far we are from that vision of justice, and it made me think of the ways the fights against Stop and Frisk and police brutality are connected to reproductive justice in a way that I hadn’t until that moment.
The film is truly important, and shows the complicated life of a young Black man and his family in the hours before his death in a way that’s compelling and rare in the usual movies playing at your standard theater. Most importantly though, it ends with footage of protests and vigils for Oscar – footage of resistance – because people of color are not just passive victims of oppressions. We always, always resist.