This post discusses plot points from Fruitvale and Blue Caprice, both of which are based on true events.
Before The Weinstein Company bought 26-year-old writer-director Ryan Coogler’s debut feature Fruitvale, an examination of the 24 hours that lead up to the shooting death of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Eve in 2008, Mike Fleming Jr. wrote on Deadline that “The feeling from buyers I’ve spoken to who’ve seen it is that Fruitvale has the potential to be one of those festival pictures that come out of nowhere — like Precious and Beasts Of The Southern Wild — to capture audience and critical acclaim.”
What Fleming didn’t note in his post is that Fruitvale, Precious, and Beasts Of The Southern Wild all star African-American actors, and both Fruitvale and Precious, which was directed by Lee Daniels, were directed by African-American men. Sundance has gotten more buzz this festival for the number of films in its narrative feature competition that were directed by women. But it’s equally important to note the festival’s role in creating buzz for films about African-American characters that translate into distribution deals and profits: Precious made $47.6 million domestically on a production budget of $10 million, while the even lower-budget Beasts has made $11.5 million on a $1.8 million production budget.
Two of the best movies I saw at this year’s festival, Fruitvale and Blue Caprice, an examination of the growth of a fictionalized version of the relationship between Beltway Snipers John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) and Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond), directed by Kanye West collaborator Alexandre Moors, fell into that category. To a certain extent, they’re formally similar chronicles of deaths foretold. Both begin with footage of the real-world events they explore, Blue Caprice with a montage of news footage of Muhammad and Malvo’s killing spree, and Fruitvale with cell phone video of Grant’s shooting on the BART platform. But from there, they become complementary movies on separate paths. If Fruitvale is about how prejudicial suspicion of black men can inject deadly violence into a specific life at random, Blue Caprice explores how two men build a highly specific and fatal future.
In Fruitvale, Oscar (an exceptional Michael B. Jordan) is year out of prison and almost compulsively on the make, a young man attempting to close the gap between his considerable charm and his lack of discipline. As the movie begins, he’s just talked his girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, Sophina (Melonie Diaz) into taking him back after he cheated on her, though he’s less successful in talking the grocery store manager who fired him for lateness into giving him back his job, even when he tries to manipulate the man’s emotions and white liberalism, asking him “You want me selling dope, Brad?” At the store, he flirts with Katie (Ahna O’Reilly), a young white woman who’s gotten herself bollixed up trying to pick fish to fry for her boyfriend for a New Year’s Eve dinner. “It sounds like he’s black,” Oscar teases her, before putting her on the phone with his Grandma Bonnie, who sets Katie straight. When he finally comes clean to Sophina about losing his job, he does it two steps, first telling her that he’s unemployed, and finally admitting that he’s been so for several weeks. In between that admission and ditching a stash of marijuana he intended to sell to make the month’s rent, Oscar’s in a precarious, but hopeful position: he’s made some moves away from both dishonesty and criminality, but hasn’t started to look for legal employment or started to feel a serious pinch. As he tells Sophina, who explained to him of her New Year’s resolution to cut carbs that it takes 30 days to form a habit, he needs to “just not fuck up” for a month.