Melonie Diaz Discusses How 'Fruitvale Station' Humanizes Racial Profiling, Racism

A man shot at a subway station, in the early hours of New Years Day 2009, by a police officer — all of it caught on a cell phone.

That is the story of Oscar Grant, the main character in the movie “Fruitvale Station,” based on the real events of that day. The case caused a media uproar and raised questions of police brutality and racial profiling. Now a film chronicling the last 24 hours of Oscar Grant’s life is about to hit theaters.

Here’s a synopsis of the film:

“Fruitvale Station” follows the true story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being a better son to his mother (Octavia Spencer), whose birthday falls on New Year’s Eve, being a better partner to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), who he hasn’t been completely honest with as of late, and being a better father to Tatiana (Ariana Neal), their beautiful four year-old daughter”.

VOXXI had the chance to sit down with one of the film’s stars, Melonie Diaz, who plays Grant’s girlfriend. Here’s what she had to say.

Q&A with ‘Fruitvale Station’s’ Melonie Diaz

VOXXI: You play the role of Sophina in ‘Fruitvale Station,’ which is Oscar Grant’s girlfriend. How did you get the role? How did you find out about this role?

Melonie Diaz: It was pretty normal protocol. Ryan’s agent [Ryan Coogler, writer and director of the film], who I had worked with before, sent me the script, and I read it right away.

I was completely blown away, one because it was such a well written piece of art, but also because it was based on a true story, and I didn’t know that. I was kind of appalled that I had no idea that I was unaware of Oscar Grant’s death.

I Skyped with Ryan, and we spoke about it. We have similar ideas about what happened, similar ideas about the character and the movie, and we were both equally as passionate. So, I kind of wanted to join his team in making this movie.

VOXXI: How did you prepare for the role of Sophina (because this is a real character; this is a real person)? Were you able to meet with her? were you able to spend time with her?

MD: Yeah, Mike and I, we went to the Bay to hang out and do research and stuff. A part of playing Sophina was definitely getting familiar with the Bay Area because I’m from New York and it’s very very different from where I’m from, the lingo is different, the attitudes, the different kind of cadences.

I wanted to hang out with her and she’s a really great girl. She’s been through a lot so, of course you don’t want to ask someone to revisit terrible things in their life, but, it was more about… I didn’t want to mimic her, I just wanted to be a representation of her. The one thing that was really clear to me is that she is so unconditional. You can tell in the movie that she loves Oscar and that was something that kind of grounded me in playing her.

VOXXI: One of the key things in this movie is — I think it’s a turning point is — cell phones and how they were able to capture that moment, that New Year’s Eve. The real-life event happened in 2009. Had it happened 10 years prior, probably no one would have had a cell phone to record it. How do you think that plays into the movie and into the events?

MD: I think “Fruitvale Station,” well, Oscar Grant’s story, is really unique in the sense that, I don’t think we would be here talking, making a movie about this. That clip made this experience so much more real. It was a fact. There was no way around that. That BART officer shot him in the back, and it was very clear that this is a problem, and half the time we don’t know about it.

VOXXI: How much of what has happened in the film do you think is happening today? And how can this film bring awareness to racial profiling, mistreatment, police brutality?

MD: I feel like this stuff happens obviously all the time. I don’t think that police brutality and racism and all this stuff is going to stop because of this movie. What I do think that the movie should do is open up conversation.

It’s really exciting to me that people are really happy about this movie because it means that there’s a response, there’s an initial response. People want change, people want positivity.

The message for me, what this movie is about, is about how we treat each other, about giving Oscar a voice back, making him a human being, giving him his humanity back. Because these people on the news, we see them but we forget that they’re real people.

I think if we are all on a normal human level and on a day-to-day basis treat each other with a little bit more kindness, I think we can really prevent this kind of hatred from happening. I think it starts there. I think that’s the biggest message for me.

VOXXI: The events of this film happened on New Year’s Eve, 2008. Do you remember what you were actually doing New Year’s Eve, 2008?

MD: Probably something really bad. I don’t remember.

VOXXI: One more question I’d like to ask, in an effort to shed light on social injustice. I went on the film’s website, and there’s something where they’re encouraging people on social media to share their “Oscar Grant Moment.” Have you had an Oscar Grant moment?

MD: I have. I think … I grew up in New York City, and obviously it’s like a cultural melting pot, and I’m really blessed to have not have had an experience like Oscar, but you know, I am a woman, and I am Latina. There is a lot of judgement.

People think sometimes that because I’m brown and I’m a woman that I’m less something, sometimes. Or I should be submissive or something. That’s not really the case. I know that a lot of people have had that moment, and I think this movie is giving them the freedom and the confidence to express themselves.

I think when these things happen to people you kind of feel alone, and you kind of feel like the rest of America has forgotten about you. I think “Fruitvale Station” is about telling the world that if you’ve had this moment, let us know so we can share and talk and converse. I think that comfort of knowing that you’re not the only one, I really do think ties people together and makes us all one. I think that is a really inspiring feeling.

“Fruitvale Station” hits theaters July 12 in select cities and nationwide July 26.