Very powerful and sad. This movie is about Oscar Grant, the young Black man who was fatally shot by police at a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train station in Oakland, California in 2009. I thought this film did a great job at humanizing Grant and showing how the existences of poor people and Black people are criminalized and penalized by the economic/political system in the U.S.
The film portrays Oscar Grant as a complicated, multifaceted person. He’s someone who loves and cares about his daughter and girlfriend, his mom, even a stray dog. Like all of us, he’s not perfect either: he got fired for being late to work, he tells his mom a little lie on the phone. Oscar is neither flawlessly good nor totally bad, he’s just human.
Oscar does work in the informal sector, selling weed. He tries desperately to seek legitimate formal employment, but to no avail. Flashbacks to the past show that Oscar has been in jail before, which very likely impedes Oscar’s ability to attain legitimate employment. Oscar is under pressure to help provide for his young daughter and to help his sister pay rent. He and his family do not have much; a couple hundred dollars makes the difference between having dinner to eat and having a place to sleep at night. Thus, selling weed is much less of a choice that Oscar makes, and much more of a necessity to continue living. An important point that the movie made, is the cycle that keeps people in poverty: a person sells weed because he has limited choice of ways to make money, which gets him entangled in the criminal justice system, which makes it even harder for him to get legitimate employment. Black people face intense discrimination from potential employers, and they also face very disproportionate targeting by police, largely for offenses that are rarely enforced on white people, like doing/selling drugs.
Leading up to the climactic scene, Oscar gets into a tiff on the train, which is initiated by an angry white man whom he knows from a previous stint in jail. Grant does not really fight or cause any trouble, but he and his other Black friends are dragged off the train by BART police, and the guy who started the fight is not. I thought this clearly showed that the police target Black people as “criminals,” and that a double standard exists for criminal behavior for white people and Black people.
Everyone should watch this movie.