When Melonie Diaz ( Be Kind Rewind) watched the video of a white Bay Area Rapid Transit officer shoot and kill Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black man in the wee hours of New Year’s Day in 2009, she was disgusted.
Diaz was preparing herself for the role of Grant’s girlfriend, in Fruitvale Station, which opens Friday.
“I didn’t know it was based on a true story. That created a lot of anger,” Diaz said. “We are desensitized and numb to these things way too often.”
The film, produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, chronicles Grant ( Michael B. Jordan of NBC’s Friday Night Lights) in the 24 hours before the fateful shooting. The 2013 Sundance Film Festival award winner sheds light on the tension.
“We wanted to give Oscar’s voice back,” Diaz continued. “We really wanted to paint the portrait of the person.”
Diaz spent time with Grant’s real life girlfriend, Sophina Mesa, shopping and getting their nails done. She told Diaz that she thought he was “the best father ever,” despite their differences, even though he once cheated on her.
“She’s really unconditional. She loves him with all her heart,” Diaz said, adding that Mesa was “like an anchor for me.”
The whole time, Diaz hoped Mesa would trust her in telling her life story. “She’s really the victim as much as the family is,” Diaz said.
In the movie, Grant spends New Year’s Eve trying to make amends with Sophina, his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and mother Wanda, played by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer. The superstar talent on set gave Diaz “a lot of comfort.” At one point, she even called Whitaker to ask him questions.
But the infamous cellphone video footage of Grant’s death still haunts her.
“I cannot believe how much anger and fear and prejudice is in that one clip. That piece is so disturbing, it’s kind of like what really fueled the last 20 minutes of the movie,” she said.
Grant’s death caused riots throughout the Bay Area, as the footage shows BART police officer Johannes Mehserle pull out a gun from his holster and shoot Grant, restrained with his hands behind him, point blank in the back. In court proceedings, Mehserle said that he mistook his gun for his Taser. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2010 and was sentenced to two years in prison.