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Interview: ‘Fruitvale’ Director Ryan Coogler & Michael B. Jordan Talk What Really Matters w/ S&A’s Sergio

Interview: 'Fruitvale' Director Ryan Coogler & Michael B. Jordan Talk What Really Matters w/ S&A’s Sergio

Fruitvale
Station
writer and director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan are
currently on a coast to coast publicity tour for their film, which opens in limited release this Friday, July 12, and will expand nationally on July
19th. So when I was recently asked if I wanted to interview them, of
course, how could I refuse?

Anyone
who regularly follows this site knows that we have been covering the film
extensively, including Coogler himself who told me that he regularly reads the
site.

And,
as usual, I try to avoid those obvious, lame, softball questions you usually read
in interviews like: “What was it like working with so-and-so?” As if someone is
going to tell me that working with so-and-so was an absolute nightmare. Instead
I try to get underneath the issues about the film and the people involved in
it.

So
here’s my talk with Coogler and Jordan…

SERGIO
There’s a video of the both of you right after the screening of Fruitvale
Station at the Cannes Film Festival being overwhelmed by the standing ovation
from the audience in attendance. What was that experience like?  It’s maybe the dream of every filmmaker.

COOGLER It’s
impossible to express in words. In terms of the film, I can talk about myself as
a filmmaker. In terms of the film, it was something that affected me very
deeply. I’m not a member of Oscar’s family, but I have close insight into that
community because we were the same age and we come from roughly the same place.

When I saw that footage (of Grant being shot) I saw myself, like a lot of people did in that
community. I guess that’s where the film came from seeing that footage and thinking
what if one of my friends was right next to me if that happened? What would my
family go through if I didn’t make it back? Who would be the most affected by
that? And that’s a question that I, unfortunately, ask myself all the
time.  I have a lot of friends who have
been killed or who are incarcerated. So it started from that place. And it’s
something that’s affected where I’m from, intensely. I wanted to make a project
that was specific to the Bay Area and specific to that environment.

But I also wanted to make it about relationships that people
could basically recognize. Because we are all human beings and as human beings
we have more in common than we don’t. Though it matters where you’re at, you
know what I mean? People know what it’s like to have a mom, to have a
girlfriend or a boyfriend or a spouse. You know what it’s like to be struggling
with something internally. And people know what it’s like to be young and
dealing with certain things.

So I wanted to make it true to the circumstances. But I
hope that someone could watch it that’s not from there, who’s not from the Bay
Area, who’s not black and recognize some of those relationships and see
themselves and be emotionally affected by the film. I didn’t really know if it
would work or not. So to be at Cannes and have the film play for them was
really gratifying. I was humbled by it.

SERGIO But
some will look at Fruitvale Station and say you show the problems, but you don’t
give the answer or a solution on how to solve this problem involving young
black men.

COOGLER I
think somebody who is looking for a film for something like that, I’m not sure
why they would do that. First of all, if I had a solution to the problem I wouldn’t
be making movies [laughs]. I don’t know if it’s art’s job to show where the solutions
are. I think it’s art’s job to make you think.

SERGIO But you
have to admit your film is controversial from the viewpoint of Oscar Grant in
the film. I’ve talked to people who, like me, have seen the film and some say
it’s such a tragedy young black man trying to turn his life around whose life
was cut short.  But there are others who
say Grant in your film is this aimless guy with a severe anger management problem,
and what happened to him he brought on himself. What do you say about that?

JORDAN
Imagine if this was a documentary, all right? 
It would have been force fed. I don’t think a lot of people would have
watched it. I don’t think it would have had the reach that this film has the
potential of having because everything in the film is up for interpretation.
It’s like hiding the medicine in the food in a way. You make people feel
emotions and make them think things that they never really think about I any
real way. And it has such an impact on people they began to say to themselves: Why
do I feel that way?”  “Why do I empathize
with someone who I’ve never met before?”

Someone that I might have judged only by face value
because he looks like me and they see people like me in the media who’s been
branded a criminal, a hoodlum or a thug? Why do I feel for this man? Because
he’s a human being and has things which everyone has in common which is what
Ryan was touching on. He has a great relationship with his daughters, his
girlfriend, his mother, his best friends, doing the day to day routine.
Everyone knows what it’s like to have a late bill or rent that’s due or how is
he going to put food  on the table for
his family? How is he going to provide for his family? So you see how people can
start to see a little of themselves in a project can spark people into thinking
how can I treat this person like a real person, like a real human? How can I stop
this senseless violence? The value of life goes up a little bit when someone
can see something of themselves in another person.

COOGLER: I
think a lot of the source of how people are treated depends on the fact if
someone recognizes them as a human being or not, you know what I mean?  There are people who read an article about
Oscar and said “Oh my God that’s rough!” and went on about their day. You can
see that video of Oscar getting shot and say “Oh my God that’s rough!”
and went on about their day. Why is it that when you don’t have intimate
contact with somebody and can read about something happening to them and it has
no effect on you? I work in juvenile hall and I see gang related conflicts all
the time, I’ve seen somebody kill somebody just because they’re from another street.
And when you talk to people who are involved in conflicts like that and you ask
them about the people on the other street they don’t see them as full human
beings because they don’t come into intimate contact with them.

And I think the same thing from people, who are from
homogenous areas, all white areas, what is the contact they have with young African
American males? They don’t live around them. They don’t see them in their
lives. The only time they see them is though what? The media, in the newspaper
or in a music video. So they’re only seeing a shadow. They’re not seeing a human
being. They’re seeing a shadow of an archetype, a stereotype. That’s what they’re
seeing people as. So when they hear about these people getting killed they think:
Well
 they deserved it. Well that happened”

.  But when you recognize as a full human
being, which is what these people are. then it’s different.

SERGIO Well
getting to that point one of the honest things about your film is that you don’t
portray Grant as some kind of saint which would have been too easy and too
obvious. He’s a very flawed person, someone who is immature in many ways with a
major anger issues. But there are some people who will see that and say “Well,
he brought it on himself. If he had behaved rationally he wouldn’t have gotten
shot.” 
But
other people will feel just the opposite. It’s a sort of d…d…

COOGLER: Dichotomy

SERGIO Right!
That’s was I going to say. It’s that the right word? I’m not sure. (laughs)

COOGLER: (Laughs)
Yeah I saw it about to come out your month. (laughs) I think that’s the right
word.

SERGIO Well
we’ll go with that. What do you say about that?

COOGLER
It’s
funny because Michael and I were just talking about this. I would ask those
people who have that problem did he did anything that deserves the death penalty?
That’s I would ask him because he lost his life. Did he do anything that
deserved him losing his life? That’s the question I would ask. And I would wait
for their response.

SERGIO The
answer is, of course, no.

COOGLER: Depends
on who you talk to. There are people who will tell you that the answer is yes. There
are people who will say the Treyvon deserved what he got. There are people who
believe that. So I can’t change that person’s mind. So that’s how I will answer
that question. I disagree with you, but tell me what he did that desired him
getting killed? And the reality of the situation is that different people have
different circumstances that they’re living with.

For some people being 22 means I can do all kinds of
drugs, I can experiment with all kinds of different things, run around with any
crowd I feel like. I went to college with those people and their lives are
never at stake.. But for other people being 22 means my life is at stake every
time I step out the door of my house. Now it’s a reality for some people that
when you get apprehended by the police you have to act different than other
people do because your life is at stake That is a reality for some people. But
is that fair? Is it fair that certain people who look a certain way can’t do certain
things or their life is at risk?

SERGIO Which
leads me to ask the burning question.  Why
is it that black people seem to be more angry when it’s a young black man
killed by a white guy? I don’t hear those cries of outrage and calls for
justice like for Oscar Grant or Treyvon Martin when it’s a young black man
killed about another black man which is way more common.  People just wring their hands and say “So sad.
This is terrible.” I don’t see Al Sharpton or people out in the streets
protesting or the constant media coverage.  It’s as if when a black man is killed by a white
guy, he’s somehow ”more important”.  Regardless of
who killed the guy, the result is exactly the same.

JORDAN: I
agree! I think that, I mean it’s so sad to even say it, just it’s like we’re just
sitting back and watching them kill each other. Just ending each other off.  It’s almost like it’s expected. Like they
expect for us to kill each other off. If we don’t respect each other’s lives then
how can we expect someone outside of our race not to kill us? We have been conditioned
to react to these situations over time and it’s not right.

COOGLER: To
be honest, Sergio, I think that black on black violence is the biggest human
rights issue that African Americans have ever faced since slavery. It’s a major,
major, major, major problem since the crack epidemic. And it’s kind of like a root
from that. It’s funny, I read a statistic that since 1969 the most likely way
for a young African American male to die is from gun violence. I don’t know if
that statistic is right, but it seems right. I was born in 1986 and that’s
biggest fear that I have today of being killed. And this is the sick reality
for us is that I live every day of my life knowing that I was to be shot and
killed that most likely it would be by someone who looks just like me. And
chance if it wasn’t someone who looked like than then someone who was paid to
protect me.

And I think that the loss of life, no matter who’s responsible
for it, and I just made a film where a police officer took someone’s life who happened
to be white. But I feel that the loss of life is the greatest tragedy no matter
who is taking it. And until we treat every loss of life for the tragedy that it
is, not only taking steps to hold ourselves accountable for that, but also
taking steps to hold ourselves accountable for stopping it before it even happens,
we are going to have major issues as a community.

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Comments

woh

Quoting Michael Jordan, "The value of life goes up a little bit when someone can see something of themselves in another person."

That's the solution. If the transit officer saw something of himself in Oscar, he would be alive today. If Zimmerman saw something of himself in Trayon, he would be alive today. We need to all look in the mirror and see the humanity in ourselves and in others. #stoptheviolence

Former SEC football player

Ryan Coogler pump your story but the biggest human rights violations in the world are fair wages for student aged young adults and teens. Over 400,000 student-athletes participating in sports that are aired on television to higher viewer ratings than almost every piece of TV media talked about on this website yet these athletes aren't çompensated like on air talent. The commentators making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to talked the celebrity performing on the field or court. Imagine Beyonce performing and red carpet reporters getting paid more than her. Cheap labor is a human rights issue not senseless violence. So have young black men been responsible for 20 million deaths yet. There exists a demographic in this country that reason for existing is solely based on the brutality of others and the murder of 100 million people since touching down on this continent. Sergio you asked two young black men for all we know who have never killed anyone to take blame for men they don't know. Bad people kill people who they have access to. Just like the mass murdering young white men we have seen an uptic in mass shootings since Columbine. The only demographic answering for their actions are black men. So who getting let the fuck off the hook.

CareyCarey

In reference to the (below) less-than favorable remarks on Sergio's interview questions — in the tune/melody/tone of Schoolhouse Rock's "Conjunction Junction What's Your Function", I have a response that speaks to my opinion on the matter.

Wanna hear it… here it goes: "Question-Question, what's your suggestion?" Asking a bunch of shit that you might hide.

"Question-Question, how's that function?" I got three favorite ways that get most of my job done.

"Question-Question, what's their function?" I got "AND?!", "WHAT?!" and "NOT SO FAST!", they better watch out 'cause I'll spank that ass. Dirty but happy, digging and scratching, losing their cool and a button or two.

He's poor but honest, sad but true,

Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!

Sergio is Da Man!

Donella

I caught Michael B. Jordan's interview on the View with Whoopi, Barbara, and the gang. He's pretty impressive.

davyjc

Good interview, Sergio. Those two are quite talented. Your final question is the provocative one because it is the basis for their film. What makes this situation different than what happens every single day out in the streets of Chicago or Oakland or any place else in America? Black people killing black people. Cinematically, the making of this film is a no brainer. Show a life, show injustice, everyone knows it was murder = film affects people. Open and shut case.

But does it really reflect the daily reality? It's almost like our own society is letting young black men off the hook having blinders on what is the real problem out here in the streets. Black people not respecting our own communities enough, when using guns has become the only remedy for anger problems, revenge, crime and misunderstanding. It's a tough subject to tackle and done pretty well many years ago with "Boyz in the 'hood" and "Meance to Society." But if those were cautionary tells looking for ways to persuade, that sure didn't happen. The problem has only gotten worse.

I wish them good luck on the film and its reception but larger problems in our community persist.

Langston

I didn't love Sergio's questions, but I did appreciate Ryan and Michael's responses. As an arts journalist, if you have a decent amount of time for an interview with an artist, you pose questions that evoke a range of responses. All of these questions were heavy except the first one. The "softball questions" are normally standard with us, so that the interviewee relaxes. Once they are comfortable with you, then you hit them with the more challenging questions. I actually wanted to hear a lot more about what this journey has been like for Ryan as a first time filmmaker. I would have also asked Michael about his preparation for playing Oscar. Sergio is a filmmaker I believe, so he should know that questions about craft are not only valid but damn near necessary.

Ya'ke

Nicely done! I hope and pray that this brother's film does well and he continues to make meaningful work. Can't wait to check it out!

Yes

These two men look GOOD. Congratulations and all that … my my MAH!

GoodLuck

Will Black people pay to see a black man gunned down by a white cop?

bb

Coogler is 27 years old…what am I doing with my life???

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