On New Year’s Day 2009, an Oakland transit cop responded to an alleged fracas on the platform of a BART train station and shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant in the back. The next day, Grant died in the hospital. Grainy cell-phone footage of the tragedy quickly went viral, and among the millions of people who watched in horror was filmmaker Ryan Coogler. ”So many people have died in similar circumstances,” he says. ”The thing that made Oscar’s death different was that people recorded it.” Sensing the story could make a compelling movie, he pitched it to Forest Whitaker, who agreed to produce what went on to win two prizes at Sundance this year, along with heaps of critical praise.
Getting approval from Grant’s family took time, but casting Michael B. Jordan in the lead role helped. ”Thank God they were fans of The Wire, I’ll just say that,” says the actor, who starred in season 1 of HBO’s revered series. The film focuses on the last day of Grant’s life, and Coogler filmed in many of the real Oakland locations that Grant visited in his final hours — including the Fruitvale train station where the shooting took place. ”We shot above the actual brick [wall] where the bullet hole still is,” says Jordan. ”They never fixed it. It was such a heavy moment.”