*After almost passing up on the movie, Octavia Spencer gave a performance in “Fruitvale Station” that been receiving Oscar buzz.
The film tells the true story of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man fatally shot by a white police officer in an Oakland, Calif., train station early on New Year’s Day, 2009. The officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months in prison.
The shooting was caught on video and circulated widely via social networks. “Fruitvale’s” opening minutes feature a snippet of the video, the same footage that made Spencer pass on the pivotal role as Grant’s mother.
“In seeing the video, I said the only thing that I could offer this role is anger. And I think this situation requires much more than that because it already has a potential to be explosive,” said Spencer.
But she read the script — which chronicles Grant’s last day — and was moved.
“It restored Oscar’s humanity in a way that the trial, and all of the recriminations around it, had basically taken from him,” Spencer said in an interview at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. “So I wanted to be a part of it for my nephews … all the young men of color whose lives sometimes feel more expendable in a way. … They’re so many reasons.”
“Fruitvale Station,” which stars Michael B. Jordan as Grant and was helmed by first-time director Ryan Coogler, won the Grand Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as “Prize of the Future” at Cannes. It has drawn critical praise and prompted comparisons to the racially charged death of another young black male, Trayvon Martin.
“Fruitvale” has also generated Oscar buzz.
Before “Fruitvale,” we saw Spencer in her Academy Award winning role as a maid in “The Help,” which was her breakout role as an actress. After starring in the film and becoming a known actress, Spencer says it changed how she considers future roles.
“Before, you just take what you need to do to survive. I now want to take roles that challenge me and stretch me as an actor. So this was a beautiful story,” said Spencer.
But Spencer had a role behind the scenes as well, serving as one of its producers alongside Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker. Coogler said in some ways, she was like the film’s fairy godmother.
“While we were shooting, some money fell out, and we were in a lot of trouble,” he said. “She really rolled up her sleeves, and went around to all her friends as a producer to help make sure the movie continued to get made.”
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