Fruitvale Station, for the most part, comes from all of Coogler's research and the personal anecdotes he acquired from Grant's family and friends. It's not a documentary, though, so the writer-director did need to tell an engaging, cinematic story; meaning, there was room for creative, though reality-based, writing.
One such moment of creative license has been questioned by the film's less fawning critics for, as they see it, being manipulative. In the middle of his last day alive, Oscar Grant comes across a stray pit bull while stopping at gas station. He quickly and affectionately pets the friendly, lost dog, but then it heads off across a busy highway and gets violently struck by a speeding car. As the dog lies on the road, dying, the driver keeps on down the road. Nobody around stops to help the run-over pooch, except for Oscar. The dog clings to its last breath, then dies right in front of a shaken, visibly upset Oscar.
It's a powerful scene, one of many in the film. It's also easily susceptible to claims of being unsubtle. But for Coogler, it came from a real place.
Coogler: "It was something that came out of researching what Oscar did that day before he was killed, but it also came from my own experiences and creative choices. It's a very important scene for me, but it's also a very divisive scene for a lot of people. They watch it and say, 'Oh, this filmmaker is trying to make this guy seem as sympathetic as possible here,' like I'm trying to manipulate you into liking Oscar because he'd care for a dying dog. It's funny, because the literary term for that is 'the save-the-cat moment,' but it wasn't that for me. People who are moved by it, it's not that for them either.
For me, it came from a couple things. Oscar was the kind of guy who would always put his guard up, put a pier face on, and always try to make the people around him happy. He was always trying to be the strong guy, the tough guy, the guy who'd never let things bother him. While he was in jail, one of his good friends was killed. He never really got a chance to grieve over that when he came out, and he was going through a lot. That day, he was by himself a lot; that day was more about concealing all of this pain and not being able to handle it emotionally, and finally breaking, but he had to put that poker face back on, that armor back on, and go back out into the world.
I have a little brother who actually did some music for the film. He's very much that guy. He's a bubbly person who could come into the room right now and make everyone feel good, often to the expense of himself and what he's dealing with. One day, he came home, while I was working on the script, and he was out of it. Sophina had talked to me about how, the day that he was killed, Oscar showed up by her and he was out of it. He picked her up from work, and she was picking at him and picking at him to find out what was going on, but he wouldn't tell her. He stayed reserved and introspective. That's what my brother was like that day he came home and seemed out of it, so I asked him what was up. He told me about how he was at a gas station, saw a dog get hit, he picked the dog up, and the dog shook and died right in front of him. He didn't know what to do with the dog's body, and people were just going on about their day. That messed him up.
When I heard that story from my brother, I thought about Oscar. I thought about pit bulls and black males, and how pit bulls are seen as these really vicious creatures, but people who own them will tell you how they're the best dogs in the world. That's why people see black males with pit bulls all the time—we feel like they get us, and we get them.
I was definitely conscious of the fact that I was adding an event to Oscar's day that didn't actually happen. It's a trick. His family didn't read the script, they just saw the film when it was done. I talked to Sophina a lot, and she told me about how one of the things Oscar would always talk to her about was wanting a house. He wanted a house with a backyard and a family dog. He wanted a pit bull really badly. That was a sign of the American dream for him, to have a house with a dog and backyard for his daughter, Tatiana, and with Sophina. That was something that we talked about.
I didn't want to make a documentary, so, by making it a narrative feature, my first duty is to not only tell a story the right way, but to tell a story that's a rewarding narrative experience, that people can lose themselves in. And for me, with every choice that I made during the screenwriting process, I looked at the research and really made sure that it was right choice to make. Then, I'd just go with it."
Jordan: "It's important to have a scene like that because… What do you do when nobody's looking? What do you do when nobody's around? You see a pile of money on the street—what do you do? Do you grab the money and run? Do you take it, or do you figure out who it belongs to? Moments like that define you as a person—those moments define your character.
That was a way to really describe Oscar, and what he would do in this moment in his life when he's trying to things around, when he's trying to put things back in order."