Fruitvale Station Podcast

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Meara Brady, Jeff Broitman, and Rebecca Martin talk Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” (2013).

Though he once spent time in San Quentin, 22-year-old black man Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is now trying hard to live a clean life and support his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and young daughter (Ariana Neal). Flashbacks reveal the last day in Oscar’s life, in which he accompanied his family and friends to San Francisco to watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and, on the way back home, became swept up in an altercation with police that ended in tragedy. Based on a true story.

Oscar Grant


Essay by Ian Mason

Conversations around race relations between the African American community in the U.S. and police have long been tenuous, and remain a difficult conversation for most of us to come to terms with. To advocate for one side or the other, often can come off as dismissing the concerns of the other party. If you say “Black Lives Matter”, it can be interpreted as “F*&% the Police”, and conversely, supporting police officers can mean overlooking the systemic racism that leads to the disproportionate incarceration of young black men. And that’s only scratching the surface of the complexity of issues connected to and around the recent strife in our country concerning the murder of black citizens at the hands of the police.


Taken within this context, Ryan Coogler’s ‘Fruitvale Station’ (a 2013 recounting of the events leading up to the murder of Oscar Grant) feels all the more assured and a necessary addition to one of the most important conversations of our time. It is essential, not because it provides a solution, but it enables within the audience, that which is most often missing in our dialogues about race: a deep and sincere well of empathy for those whose lives are taken. It doesn’t feel so incendiary or angry at the officers who perpetrate the murder, accidental or otherwise, as much as it is sad the loss of a young man, struggling to do right and set himself straight. We know that Oscar has served time and briefly considers selling drugs, after he is turned down for a “normal” job at a grocery store. We also see him arguing with his girlfriend and attending a birthday party for his mother. In short, we understand he is a human being, struggling but deserving of a chance at a normal life, which is cut short by confrontation that ensues with the police at the Fruitvale BART station.


In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting of 2012, one frequently discussed perspective was that Martin had behaved or even dressed in a manner (whether legitimate or not) that conveyed a threat to his shooter. There are a lot of unfortunate connotations that can be connected back to this idea of black males as a threat, of which movies are one small part. What Fruitvale Station portrays so well is how people treat and react to Oscar, and the fact that we as an audience feel for him is evidence that there is more to him than the surface belies. We can clearly see that capacity for good, even if his actions don’t always align with societal expectations. Credit goes to the performance of Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler (who would go on to collaborate again in 2015’s excellent Rocky sequel/spin-off, “Creed”) for resisting the temptation to make this film a hagiography. A person doesn’t have to be a saint for their life to have meaning, so why is it that when we see the loss of black lives in the media, their death, rather than a justification over the circumstances that perpetrated it, is not at the forefront? ‘Fruitvale Station’ puts a human face to a story otherwise easily overlooked because it’s become ingrained in our heads that it is the way things are. Coogler seems to be saying that perhaps it’s time we changed things for the better.

A Struggle of the Time


Essay by Ian Mason

Michael Powell’s and Emetic Pressburger’s 1948 ‘Red Shoes’ is sumptuous technicolor exposition about the splendor of show business. It’s also an examination into the dark side of achieving success and what is required of one to attain greatness. At the center of the film is a young ingenue, Vicky Page, who is torn in two directions by twin desires, each represented by an important figure in her life. One is the love of her life, a brilliant young composer named Julian Craster, who pens her breakout hit, the Red Shoes, an adaption of a Hans Anderson fable in which a young woman is consumed by her desire to dance. The other pull on Vicky’s life is Boris Lermontov, the mysterious and aloof director of the Ballet, under whose tutelage Vicky is to become a star.


Early on in the film, Lermontov asks of Vicky why it is that she dances. She likens it to the reason one must live, she simply has to dance to exist. This answer captivates Lermontov, and when his star ballerina exits his troupe after eloping, he christens Vicky his next star. Stardom all goes according to plan until it is discovered, somewhat belatedly, by Mr. Lermontov, that Vicky has fallen in love with Julian Craster, a brilliant young composer, that Lermontov enlists into his fold after it is reconciled that an earlier show performed by Lermontov’s ballet and credited to another, was lifted from the work of Craster. Why it is the two have fallen in love is never quite explained beyond the fact it is natural for two individuals with such drive as Julian and Vicky to be drawn to each other. Lermontov himself can never understand why one would subsume their artistic talents for something so trivial as romantic love. It is obvious that in Lermontov’s world, there is room for only one singular purpose, and that is to become great at a specific artistic endeavor. For Julian, it is music; for Lermontov, directing; and for Vicky, dancing.


The fact that Vicky is ultimately forced to choose between her romantic entanglement and her career as a dancer, bespeaks to the time in which the film was made, as well as the place of women in society. Most women of Vicky’s era would be perceived as wise and judicious to choose the former, settle down, and start a family. It becomes apparent that Vicky’s career is to take a back seat to Julian’s, once they depart Lermontov’s company. Lermontov, on the other hand, is driven mad by the fact that someone so brilliant as Vicky would throw it all away for an engagement. Neither men can arrive at the compromise that Vicky, as a modern woman, might be able to pursue her dancing career, while simultaneously being romantically involved. The fact that she has to choose, which in the film ends with tragic consequences, is patently unfair. Though the fate of Vicky may simply have been written with the intention of serving as a dramatic device to parallel the fable of the Red Shoes, it is also a reflection of the progress (though we still have much to do) we have made as a society with regards to a woman’s right to have a career and a family life. Thought it is true that achieving greatness requires great sacrifice, it is much harder and much less worthwhile to do so without one’s happiness intact.


Red Shoes, Black Swan


Essay by Meara Brady

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) is an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s grim fairytale of the same moniker. Written for the screen, it tells the story of Victoria ‘Vicky’ Page and her journey from being an unknown, aspiring ballerina to the prima ballerina in Boris Lermontov’s company Ballet Lermontov. Boris promises to make her the greatest dancer the world has ever known and in this quest Vicky learns what sacrifice for art means. Vicky finds herself falling in love with and marrying Julian Craster, the composer of The Red Shoes, the ballet she is most famous for. In a pre-Lean In time Vicky must choose between Boris and her career or Julian and her happiness. Naturally, there cannot be a compromise if she is to fulfill Boris’s promise of making her into a great dancer and unable to choose either option she throws herself in front of a train. Her sacrifice for art was her life instead of choosing either her career or her love. The tragedy of The Red Shoes is the agreement Vicky entered into of her own accord and how much she was willing to endure when she put on the red shoes. She paid the ultimate price, with her life, but experienced a taste of greatness that was just out of reach for her.


Filmed in Technicolor, the film has inspired many filmmakers including Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese; the latter spearheaded the film restoration with his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker in 2006. It is beautiful in the way that The Wizard of Oz is beautiful and sometimes just as thematically dark and murky. It is so saturated with color the eye doesn’t always know where to land first in a scene. The richness of Vicky’s hair, the blue of the Mediterranean, the crisp whiteness of the dancer’s costumes – all illustrate the vibrancy and intensity of the performer’s life. Boris is not incorrect that Vicky needs to focus and choose her career or Julian because ballet is just as serious as a sport and requires just as much athleticism. Without her heart fully committed to it she cannot make the commitment required to be the greatest. However, Vicky does not need to be the greatest – she informs him on the train in Cannes toward the end of the film that she has been working since she left his company and married Julian. All she ever wanted to be was a working dancer but was trying to be molded into something more.


A natural comparison to The Red Shoes is its contemporary companion Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film set in the ballet world. Aronofsky has been on a recent trend of making films that focus solely on the disintegration of an athlete’s body i.e. The Wrestler and Black Swan. Both Black Swan and The Red Shoes deal with the ballet world and the oftentimes strange, paternalistic relationships company managers have with their principle dancers. Both Nina (in the film Black Swan) and Vicky were hounded and harassed by their creative directors into becoming better dancers, but at what cost? At the end of both films, overwhelmed by pressure, both ballerinas kill themselves instead of choosing another way out. The constant need to be perfect and become the best is too much to ask of a person because perfection does not exist. For Vicky and Nina the realization came too late.

The Red Shoes is a beautiful film that has stood the test of time because it is a story that asks what someone is willing to put red shoes on for. What is the ultimate price you are willing to pay to get what you want?



Desires Change

Essay by Rebecca Martin

A film like “The Red Shoes” artistically shows a reflection of a life dramatically and impulsively lived out, and it’s beautiful. The prima ballerina Victoria Page, played by Moira Shearer, has a battle between the desire of being the best dancer and being  with the love of her life. (SPOILER ALERT) In the end she cannot decide so she runs in to a train, crippling herself taking the choice out of her hands. Like a piece of art we see a reflection a feeling and emotion, and we interpret.

Usually when I analyze a film I like to stick to the film, but this time, I’d like to look a little beyond just the film , and look at the real woman behind Victoria Page, Moira Shearer. Moira was a professional prima ballerina in real life, but becoming a actress compromised her career as a ballerina. Most of her adult life she had mixed feelings about her career choices. Mirroring her division of being an actress and a ballerina to the film, it seems that her love of Sir Ludovic Kennedy (British Broadcaster) balanced her out. They had three children and were together until death. Why I think it’s important in this analysis to bring up the real Moira Shearer is because it demonstrates how art can take our dreams further then we ever could and also show how what we desire now, may actually change.

So going back to the film, Moira who never really watched the film after it’s release did not know about the profound effect it had on cinema and film lovers. Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, these two would be known for their artistic innovative filmmaking, even after Powell made the hated “Peeping Tom”.


The 17 minute visual wonder of “The Red Shoes” performance, takes what’s dimensional seen on stage to another dimension. The trick of the camera takes over and turns men to paper, ballerinas in to other objects, colors that change and adapt different backgrounds. This amazing piece of work could only be done by a camera, and it’s genius. The cinematography has to be given credit to Jack Cardiff, but Powell and Pressburger are the fever dream behind the film and Moira is it’s muse.


And it’s possible that the crazed frenzy of the red shoes power is just a metaphor of what may have happened to Moira in her life if one career had dominated. But because the two, actress and ballerina had divided this led to a very successful love life and marriage. And isn’t that what we all want, not to dramatically choose a path, but let life transform our directions and desires, not the red shoes, but true love of some sorts.

The following excerpt is an appropriate way to sum up this essay:

“We do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes”

-Marcel Proust