Octavia Spencer Courts Controversy With Film About Bay Area Police Shooting Of Oscar Grant

By  · Published on April 17th, 2012

In the early morning hours of New Years Day 2009, police responded to reports of fights at the Fruitvale BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station in Oakland, CA. The facts about what happened next remain in question for some, but this much is clear. Several people were detained, and an officer shot a young man named Oscar Grant in the back while he lay on the ground. Grant died a few hours later, and the officer, Johannes Mehserle, was arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder.

Per THR, casting has begun for Fruitvale, a small film from writer/director Ryan Coogler (and producer Forest Whitaker) about the incident that will focus on Grant’s interactions leading up to the shooting. Octavia Spencer has signed on as Grant’s mother while Michael B. Jordan has been cast as Grant. It’s unclear at this point how much of the shooting’s aftermath will come into play, but in a world still reeling from the Trayvon Martin murder in Florida it’s sure to have a prominent role.

Mehserle is white, and Grant is black, so the tragedy caught immediate national attention thanks in no small part to fuel thrown on it by cynical race-baiters. The specifics of the incident were quickly dismissed in favor of generalized statements of police brutality, accusations of racism and subsequent protests and riots. The reaction and suspicions are almost understandable on a general level, but the indifference towards common sense and the truth did a disservice to Grant, Mehserle and society as a whole.

The unfortunate intersection of events included a suspect who repeatedly ignored police instructions and an officer who made a deadly error by mistakenly pulling his handgun instead of his taser. Respect for authority and proper training/evaluation go a long way, but neither fact mitigates the tragedy here.

Spencer’s recent Academy Award win for The Help has made her an in-demand actress with a line-up of projects including Diablo Cody’s directorial debut, Bong Joon-ho’s highly anticipated sci-fi action film Snowpiercer and more. Jordan was most recently seen in the surprise hit Chronicle but was also a regular on NBC’s Friday Night Lights.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.