I want to visually follow up on a point I made yesterday. I think Ryan Coogler did an excellent job at representing Oscar Grant not as a type, but as a fully developed human, with a range of feelings, with a range of identities.
I happened to be blessed to have come of age in the eighties and the nineties, and to have witnessed the birth of modern day black cinema "first hand". I'm going to get to Boyz in the Hood…but Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing attempts to examine some of the same themes as Fruitvale Station. In fact I recall more than a few pundits arguing that Do The Right Thing (itself a response to Bensonhurst and to a lesser extent Howard Beach) would lead to race riots. As an aside if by chance you haven't seen Do The Right Thing yet, and don't want spoilers, stop reading NOW.
Although Do The Right Thing's Radio Raheem was NOT the central male character, he was arguably its moral center. His death sparks the rebellion at the end. But Raheem's two most prominent scenes featured below are the Love/Hate and D Battery scenes featured below:
From these two scenes we know Raheem has a strong moral compass, is literate, but has disdain for foreigners.
But what don't we know? We don't know where he lives. We don't know how many brothers and sisters he has. We don't know his hopes and dreams. We don't know whether he has a job. We don't know whether he likes girls or boys.
Spike Lee's character Mookie is one of the two other important black male characters. Here's his first scene girlfriend Tina (played by Rosie Perez).
We never see Spike interact with his son. We never see Spike interact with his parents–does he even HAVE parents? Like Raheem we don't know what his hopes and dreams are. We don't know what he wants to do after Sal's pizzeria.
Here's the scene where he sparks the rebellion.
I can do the same thing with Giancarlo Esposito's character Buggin Out.
We know his racial politics. But that's about it.
We actually know more about the Italian family (Sal, Vito, and Pino) than we do about the black characters we are supposed to have some sentiment for. We know what their hopes and dreams are. We know how they interact with each other as family because they ARE a family.
I directly contrasted Fruitvale Station to Boyz in the Hood. But the problems I saw in Boyz in the Hood has its "roots" in Do the Right Thing. We only care about the black characters in Spike's movies because we see ourselves in the characters and then fill in the gaps. We care about Radio Raheem because we remember that kid in the neighborhood that used to have the big ass boom box and the patent leather Adidas Top Tens.[foot]The shoe of choice in eighties Detroit.[/foot] We care about Mookie because we all knew the kid who wasn't quite hard enough to sell drugs, wasn't quite a hustler enough to even sell WEED, and wasn't quite smart enough to really do well in school. But we don't care about them because of Spike's choices as a director/writer. It's clear from his depiction of Sal's family that he knows how to create relatively well-rounded characters. But he doesn't do it with the black characters in Do The Right Thing.
Similarly we don't care about Doughboy and Ricky in Boyz in the Hood because they were well rounded. We care about them because we projected traits from kids we grew up with ONTO them.
This isn't what Coogler does at all.
And again, he should be applauded for it.