Living in New York for the past four years has changed me in more ways than I can count- some positive, some negative. But what was most alarming, which the film Fruitvale Station made me painfully aware of, was that I had become so self-involved that I stopped seeing people for who they were. They were just obstacles in my busy schedule. Just another body walking too slow in front of me or sitting too close to me on the subway. Just nuisances getting in the way of what I wanted.
It is so easy to stop seeing people as who they really are- human beings with thoughts, feelings, dreams- and the undeniable rights to happiness, freedom and life. And when it becomes this easy to forget that, the results are disastrous. This is obvious in the tragic fates of both Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.
Fruitvale's greatest achievement is that it humanizes Oscar Grant. No longer is he just a blip in a headline, but a real person- someone that I could have known, been friends with, loved. A wave of hot shame and guilt washed over me. I barely blinked when I heard the initial news of his death and it happened just right across the bay from me. It's so easy to overlook when injustices like this happen. To remain indifferent.
Yesterday, the non-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman was a sad reminder of how easy it is for people to forget. Like so many, I was outraged. But more so, I felt helpless. What could I do?
My first gut instinct was to join the protests in Oakland. I quickly hopped the train, mumbled a quick prayer as I passed Fruitvale Station, and joined the growing group outside 12th St. At first it felt great to be among a group of people who chose not to be indifferent, who saw the injustice of something that didn't directly affect them but cared anyway, that marched down the streets chanting Trayvon's name.
It soon turned ugly, as most Oakland protests do, and a select few began tagging "Kill Pigs," throwing firecrackers at bar hoppers, and smashing storefront windows with patrons right next to it. I got out of the way as a masked man with a bike lock ran up to a restaurant and shattered its first window. A woman who I assume was the owner came running out yelling, trying to stop him. He continued and broke them all as the glass shattered over her. It was surreal, like living a similar scene in my film. I stopped marching and turned back.
I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew I didn't want to be doing that.
I started writing my film HYPEBEASTS when the Travyon Martin tragedy first started. The biggest question I wanted to confront was, What is the right way to confront racism and injustice? My two lead characters Ronny and Justine personify my conflicting feelings on the subject. Violence just continues the cycle, but non-violent anything "only affects people with a conscience". It's something that I grapple with everyday because I don't think there is an answer and I don't claim to provide one with my film.
Ryan Coogler, director of Fruitvale Station, is an inspiration for me because his effective filmmaking reminded me films can inspire change and that racism and injustice aren't things that can be quickly solved by either throwing a trash can or holding up a sign with a dead boy's face on it. It doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. And it starts with seeing people as human beings and treating them as such.#justicefortrayvon #justiceforoscar #fruitvale
PS. There is a peaceful rally for Trayvon in Oakland at 4pm today.