Ryan Coogler answers an audience question about Fruitvale Station at our Summer Talk. Photo: Philip May

For Ryan Coogler filmmaking is an “outlet to get my frustrations out and to ask questions.” That was how the former football player characterized his motivation during a FilmLinc Daily Buzz interview at the Sundance Film Festival back in January.

Coogler created Fruitvale Station to explore the unseen complexities in the life and tragic death of Oscar Grant, a young African American man killed by police in the early hours of January 1, 2009 near where Coogler lived in the Bay Area of California.

“He was a person,” Coogler said of Oscar Grant. “I feel like that got lost. There are people he is never coming back to.” Coogler added that he felt that “making a film like this, from those intimate relationships, might help the situation.”

Six months after sweeping both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in Park City, Coogler’s Fruitvale Station opened on the same weekend that jurors in Florida acquitted George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, a case with many similarities to that of Oscar Grant.

During a lively, emotional Summer Talk on Thursday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Coogler was asked about the link to the recent Trayvon Martin trial. A young African American man, also from the Bay Area, asked Coogler how he grapples with that fact that such tragic deaths of young black men continue today.

“How do you take something so negative and find some beauty in that?” the audience member asked.

Ryan Coogler said that he sought to remind people that both Grant and Martin are more complex than how they are portrayed in the press. Their relationships add context.

“You know that Trayvon had love in his life. Travyon had potential in his life,” Coogler elaborated. “Wherever there’s great sadness there also has to be love there, as well.”

Coogler explained that Fruitvale Station is rooted in both sadness and love. The devastation of Grant’s and Martin’s deaths come from the fact that people loved them so much, he said.Ā 

“As a filmmaker, I try to find the happiness and the darkness and the sadness and see how we can grow from that,” Coogler said, “There’s a million Americans that don’t see Trayvon’s potential. They look at him as a thug that got what he deserved, even though he was a 17 year old boy that couldn’t even vote yet, that had never been arrested, never had a criminal record. And my question is: Why is that? Why do people look at him and see that? We look at him and see something else. We look at him and see us.”

Fruitvale Station is now playing in select cities. Visit the film’s official site for more information.