April 20, 2014

Oprah Winfrey Episode with Michael B. Jordan and Oscar Grant

Fruitvale Station Star Michael B. Jordan: “Black Males, We Are America’s Pit Bulls”

Michael B. Jordan, an actor who got his start when he was just 12 years old, is earning rave reviews for his portrayal of Oscar Grant III in Fruitvale Station, a film that tells the true story of a young father shot to death by a transit officer at an Oakland, California, Fruitvale Station subway stop on January 1, 2009. Watch as he shares the challenges of playing a real person. Plus, Michael explains the relationship with Oscar Grant Family.

MSNBC interviews Oscar Grant family for episode Caught On Tape 11/17/2013

Oscar Grant Foundation giving in the Community

So thankful and grateful that Oscar was about helping people. So today the Oscar Grant Foundation will be donating cook dinners to families

Katie Couric “Race In America”

From the “stop and frisk” debate to Oscar Grant’s Mother and Uncle to Travyon Martin’s parents who share their heartbreak with Katie, it’s one of the most important conversations we’ve had on the show. Join us along with Tavis Smiley and “What Would You Do?” host John Quiñones for an honest, revealing look at how race has divided our country. Plus, find out how to talk to your kids about race.

Family Tribute To Oscar Grant

Our Family Tribute to Oscar Grant Pt1– Family

Our Family Tribute to Oscar Grant Pt2– Oscar Mother Wanda, Oscar Fiancee Sophina, Oscar Daughter Tatiana

Tatiana Reads Letter to her Daddy Oscar Grant

Wanda Johnson Congressional Caucus w/Congresswoman Barbra Lee

Congresswoman Barbra Lee

Thank you to all of my colleagues for coming out the screening of Fruitvale Station last night. It was an honor to have ‪#‎OscarGrant‬’s mother, Wanda Johnson, join us in the theater; her courage is unstoppable. It was so humbling to watch the film with her and other Members of Congress. It’s time that everyone watches this film about ‪#‎Oakland‬, ‪#‎injustice‬, and ‪#‎racism‬ in this country.

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CBS News “Fruitvale Station”: Recreating a tragic loss of a life

(CBS News) A new movie based on a true story takes a look at a controversial shooting four years ago that still has echoes today. Erin Moriarty of “48 Hours” has the story behind the film:

Every day, 16,000 riders run through this Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, station in Oakland, Calif.

The sign says “Fruitvale.” But there’s another name that hangs heavy over the platform: Oscar Grant III.

Wanda Johnson, Grant’s mother, showed Moriarty a favorite photo of her “baby boy”: “His smile speaks to everybody. His smile speaks to me.”

In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, 22-year-old Grant and some friends were on the BART train returning from celebrating in San Francisco. There was a report of a fight, and when the train pulled into the Fruitvale Station, BART police started pulling Oscar and his friends off the train.

Other passengers pulled out their cell phones, and recorded video of what happened next: “In the video I see that there’s a officer out with a Taser walking back and forth, cussing, telling people to get off the eff-ing train,” Johnson recalled. “And then he grabs one of the boys and takes him off the train. He escorts a couple more off the train and he throws them down on the ground.”

One of them is an unarmed Oscar Grant. A BART officer is on top of Grant, trying to handcuff him.

“And as he has his knee in Oscar’s neck, Mehserle, he pulls out his gun and he shoots him,” Johnson said. “And everybody [goes], ‘Why would you shoot him?’ ”

Transit officer Johannes Mehserle shot Grant point-blank in the back.

Oscar Grant died in the hospital seven hours later.
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Actor Michael B. Jordan saw the cell phone video online.

“I just remember being at home on the computer, watching the video,” Jordan said, “and just being, like, in awe — ‘Wow, it happened again.’ You know, African American kid, a person of color, being beaten, shot, harassed — this prejudice, the racism, all of that.”

Young Oakland filmmaker Ryan Coogler saw the video, too: “I remember the first time seeing it, just having an empty feeling in my stomach.

“And Oscar, being my age, looking like me, wearing the same type of clothes that I wear, his friends looking like my friends — it really triggered all kinds of emotions, from sadness, to anger, to a sense of helplessness.”

The streets of Oakland erupted. Officer Mehserle claimed that instead of pulling out his Taser, he mistakenly grabbed his gun, and fired the fatal shot. Charged with murder, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and served less than a year in jail.

Coogler saw a story he wanted to tell in a movie — not so much about the shooting. He wanted to talk about Oscar Grant himself.

“He had made some mistakes in his life,” Coogler said. “But he also had some great love in his life, very great positives in his life as well. To be honest, he was a person, just like you, just like me.”

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But to make his film — simply called “Fruitvale Station” — Coogler had a lot of people to convince . . . starting with Oscar’s mother.

Johnson said she was “Very hesitant.”

Coogler had never actually made a feature film before. But his student films, at USC and elsewhere, had attracted admirers like actor Forrest Whitaker, who signed on as producer.

Whitaker convinced Oscar’s mother to say yes.

Then Coogler picked Michael B. Jordan to play Oscar, after seeing him on TV in “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights.”

NPR–Oakland Braces For Seeing Subway Shooting On The Big Screen

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Listen live to interview of Cephus Uncle Bobby by Richard Gonzales

It’s not often that Oakland, Calif., hosts a movie opening. But there is plenty of anticipation for Fruitvale Station.

The film is about the life and death of Oscar Grant, a young black man who was fatally shot in the back by a white transit police officer in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day in 2009.

Grant was killed by Officer Johannes Mehserle, who claimed to have been reaching for his Taser, not his handgun. Mehserle was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months of a two-year term.

Grant’s final moments were captured on video by witnesses using cellphone cameras. Two officers are seen pinning the young man down, face-first on the platform. Then one of them shoots Grant in the back, at point-blank range.

The images were widely shared and touched off violent street protests.

Fruitvale Station portrays Grant as a charming but troubled young man. It has won awards at Sundance and Cannes, and now much of Oakland is eager to see it.

“I believe that the movie is just to bring out justice, so that people will see the side of the story of that young man that’s not here anymore,” says Monique McNeil, a fast-food worker on her way to catch a train at the Fruitvale stop of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART). “And see that that was a wrongful death.”

Musician and chef Kenneth Lee says he plans to see the movie as soon as he can.

“You know it’s a sad situation, man, you know what I mean? I can’t believe that happened. That was real, live murder. We all seen it,” Lee says.

It seems like nearly everyone in Oakland has seen the grainy video of Grant’s last moments. But director Ryan Coogler insists that his film really isn’t about Grant’s death.

“I was interested in telling a story about relationships and about humanity,” Coogler says.

Coogler, 27, is an intense, soft-spoken man. Fruitvale Station is his first feature film. He says some people consider Grant a martyr and hero, a victim of police brutality. Others call him a thug who brought his death upon himself by resisting the police. Coogler says both versions dehumanize Oscar Grant.

“What I was interested in was just telling a story of his relationships. Who this guy was to the people who knew him the best and the people who loved him the most, and the people he meant the world to. You know, and everybody — every human — being has those people,” he says.

In the film, you see Grant’s last day alive. He’s an unemployed father and an ex-con who deals drugs. But he’s also trying to straighten up his life.

Grant is played by actor Michael B. Jordan, best known for his role as Wallace on The Wire. In a flashback scene, Grant is shown in San Quentin prison. When Grant’s mother — played by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer — visits him there, you see her frustration with her son and the behavior that’s led him to prison.

The unvarnished view of Grant may surprise some, but not his family, says Oscar Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson.

“We’ve seen the movie now four times. It doesn’t get easier,” Johnson says. “And then to re-live that scene on the platform, it’s very painful.”

Johnson said the family had been approached by several filmmakers who wanted to tell Grant’s story, but they were won over by Coogler, who promised to deliver a complex portrait of the young man.

Johnson believes it’s not just Oscar Grant viewers will see in the movie. “It’s all our young black and brown men.”

In many ways, Oakland is still taking stock of what happened at Fruitvale Station in 2009. And some wonder whether the firm might re-ignite passions.

School teacher Ever Bolden says he’s not sure he wants to see the movie.

“You know, if there was going to be more polarization, more hate for cops, more hate for the unemployed or the young people, then it hasn’t done it’s job,” he says. “We’ve got to bring people back together. And I feel like movies are there to inspire and strengthen us, and if this movie does that, I will be very grateful.”

Fruitvale Station was produced by Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker and is distributed by the Weinstein Co. The 90-minute film opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. It will be released nationally on July 26.

Fruitvale Station now playing in Theaters

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LA Times: Oscar Grant shooting death: Film delivers a vital message

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Oscar Grant III’s mom relives the past while supporting ‘Fruitvale Station,’ the new film about her son’s shooting death.

Director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan at the BART Fruitvale station. Both believe they could have easily been in Grant’s shoes.

By Amy Kaufman
Reporting from Oakland

June 28, 2013

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After putting in a full day at UPS, Wanda Johnson rushed to change from her work clothes into a sapphire blue gown.

When she arrived at the Grand Lake Theater, she looked red-carpet ready — her dress flowing, not a hair out of place — but her heart was pounding. So she sat down in the lobby, placed her hands delicately on her lap and surveyed the chaos: cameras flashing, popcorn spilling, movie fans standing tiptoe trying to glimpse Hollywood stars on hand for the Northern California premiere of “Fruitvale Station.”

It was a film about her son, Oscar Grant III. Soon, she was going to watch him die on screen — for the third time.
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Four and a half years ago, Grant, 22, was shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer on the Fruitvale station platform, only five miles from the theater.

The African American father was returning with friends from New Year’s Eve celebrations in San Francisco when a fight broke out on his train. At the Fruitvale stop, authorities pulled the unarmed Grant aside, forcibly restrained him and pinned him to the ground as onlookers captured the scene with cellphones.

The 2009 footage — ending with a single gunshot — quickly went viral, inciting protests and riots in Oakland.

“I’m the one who told him to take BART, thinking he would be safe,” said Johnson, tears threatening to ruin the makeup she had put on for the premiere. “I didn’t want them to be out there drinking and driving…. And he said, ‘OK, Mama, I’ll take BART for you.’”

Reliving the past while lending her support to “Fruitvale Station” over the last few months has stirred the guilt she feels from Grant’s death and led to surreal moments of glamour amid her sadness.

In January, she flew to Park City, Utah, for the movie’s unveiling at the Sundance Film Festival and saw her son played by Michael B. Jordan and herself portrayed by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer. Critics praised the performances, and the picture took home Sundance’s top two prizes.

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Wanda Johnson, left, mother of Oscar Grant, and actress Octavia Spencer, at “Fruitvale Station” premiere. Spencer plays the role of Wanda Johnson in the film.

Last week, at a screening during the Los Angeles Film Festival, Johnson was bombarded by celebrities eager to greet her — Sidney Poitier, Russell Simmons, Edward James Olmos.

But it was the young actor who played her son who gave her the most comfort amid the fanfare. She pulled Jordan close to her chest, bringing him in for a motherly minute-long embrace.

“I told him he’s my other son now,” she said. “I told him, ‘You can call me any time.’”

Johnson didn’t go looking for her Hollywood turn.

She was an outspoken figure during the 2010 trial when transit officer Johannes Mehserle, eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter, testified he’d mistakenly shot Grant after pulling out his handgun instead of his electronic stun gun. Throughout the trial, Johnson fielded numerous requests from documentarians looking to tell Grant’s story. She declined them all.

Something shifted, however, when Ryan Coogler, “Fruitvale’s” first-time writer-director, approached her.

“He just kind of comforted me with the words he was saying,” Johnson said. “When [I] met Ryan, I kind of felt, like, at peace with him.”

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Coogler was a product of the Bay Area. Growing up in Hayward, the now-27-year-old was raised to be fearful of the police. At the dinner table, his parents taught him and his two brothers how to act if they were ever stopped by the cops.

“We’d rehearse,” recalled Coogler’s mother, Joselyn. “Like, ‘Keep your hands on the steering wheel.’”

He was a USC film student but in the Bay Area with his family on winter break when Grant was shot. As footage of the incident trickled out, Coogler couldn’t shake one thought: “That could have been me.”

Wanda Johnson, left, and daughter Trinice Smith at the “Fruitvale Station” screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Back at USC, Grant’s story stuck with him. So when an executive from actor Forest Whitaker’s production company approached Coogler about a possible collaboration, he knew the movie he wanted to make.

And he knew he needed Johnson involved. To help the cast prepare, she agreed to talk to the actors about her son.

“It was very, very hard,” said Johnson, whose perfectly straight bangs framed her kind, unassuming face. “I was really scared at first, like, ‘How is the movie going to turn out?’ They could do it however they wanted.”

Spencer, who had never played a character based on a real person, was anxious about the process too. Once they met, however, the two shared laughter and tears.

“Any insecurities or fears that I had — she allayed them,” Spencer said, dabbing her forehead after walking the red carpet at the Grand Lake.

“We felt like family. When I saw her, I thought, ‘We could be sisters.’ She is a very graceful, quiet but poised woman. And what a gracious woman — to allow a whole film crew into her life after losing her son.”

Jordan was also sensitive about playing Grant, imagining what it would feel like, he said, “if some kid was coming at me wearing the same clothes and had the same facial hair as my dead son.”

Like Coogler, Jordan thinks about how easily he could have been in Grant’s shoes.

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“I got pulled over 20, maybe 30 times,” said Jordan, who used to drive a BMW, a car that, he added, drew unwanted police attention, “with the automatic assumption being that I’m a drug dealer or it’s stolen.”

After spending time with Johnson, the 26-year-old became more comfortable with his role in the movie and in her life.

Actor Michael B. Jordan, who played Oscar Grant III, stuck close to Wanda Johnson during much of this red carpet fanfare.

“This film is really helping her along in the grieving process of getting past this,” Jordan said. “Not ever forgetting about it, but moving on from it a little bit.”

The only obvious reminder of Grant near the incident is a crosswalk away from the Fruitvale station, where a street artist painted a mural of Grant’s face emblazoned on a BART ticket.

Hours before “Fruitvale’s” hometown premiere, Coogler wandered around the station’s concourse level with Jordan. Luna Salaver, a BART communications officer, was on site to make sure the pair didn’t travel upstairs to the platform with a reporter. She said she was fearful of any commotion that the actor and filmmaker might cause among the passengers.

“I don’t like going up there anyway,” Coogler said. “There’s energy at that spot — people know it and what happened there. And oftentimes, people won’t stand at that end of the platform.”

When “Fruitvale” was filmed at the station last year, Jordan thought he found a bullet hole left by the ammunition that traveled through Grant’s body and into a floor tile.

… I felt like I was going to lose my life every time I shot that.”

— By Michael B. Jordan

“I remember putting my chest to the hole and being scared while I was shooting that scene,” the actor recalled. “Having the cops there, the passengers on the train, knowing what happened — I felt like I was going to lose my life every time I shot that.”

News of the bullet hole eventually reached BART officials.

“When we learned that this reminder of the worst thing in BART’s history was still there, we immediately sent someone in to fix it,” Salaver said.

On the day of Coogler and Jordan’s visit, a pink, clay-like substance had recently been applied to cover the hole. Pieces of the chalky filler lay in crumbles around the spot. Most people will probably mistake it for a wad of smooshed chewing gum.

Hours later at the Grand Lake Theater, as Johnson posed for a rare photo with the film’s cast, everyone seemed to have a tie to Oscar Grant.

There was Nigel Bryson, 23, who had been riding the train with Grant the night he was killed. A large pendant painted with Grant’s face hung from his neck. Tony Coleman, who said he once coached Grant in basketball, was spreading the word about an upcoming rally tied to the film. A dozen BART employees showed up. Even Mayor Jean Quan shared her memories of Grant. She used to go to Farmer Joe’s, the supermarket where he worked, and remembers seeing him behind the butcher counter.

“What his mom said to him — that’s the kind of thing I’d say to my kid. ‘Take BART,’” she said.

Nigel Bryson, 23, who had been riding the train with Oscar Grant the night he was killed in 2009, wears a large pendant painted with Grant’s face on it to the Oakland premiere of “Fruitvale Station.” (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times) More photos

Noticeably absent was his girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Sophina Mesa, whose relatives said she isn’t ready to watch the film.

“Seeing it on the film is just too much,” said Lita Gomez, Mesa’s sister. “It’s too realistic.”

All the fanfare over the movie, which opens July 26 with high awards-season hopes for the Weinstein Co., reminded Johnson of her son’s love for attention.

“He always liked to be the light of the crowd,” she said. “So in these situations, I always think, ‘Oscar, you’re getting what you wanted. You’re not here, but you’re still getting celebrated.’”

When at last it was time for the screening to begin, Johnson steeled herself, hiding her face during certain scenes, closing her eyes during others. She especially hates the part at the hospital, after Grant has been shot.

“We drove so, so quickly that night,” she said. “I think we probably went about 90 to 100 miles an hour on the freeway just trying to get to the hospital so I could be with my son.”

Why relive it?

“I have to. You know why? Because I wouldn’t want you or anybody else to go through it,” she said. “If I don’t do it, then I’m always going to have that on my heart.”