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Harvey Weinstein may be the film industry’s greatest master of publicity, but not even he could have planned for Fruitvale Station to open on the very weekend that George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager.
Fruitvale bears striking similarities to the Trayvon Martin saga, raising the same issues of racial profiling and civil rights. The indie film could see increased interest in the weeks to come after a strong opening in seven theaters, including three in the San Francisco Bay Area.
From first-time director Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale recounts the shooting death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African-American man who was killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle at Oakland’s Fruitvale station in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2009. Like Martin, Grant was unarmed.
Mehserle’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter prompted criticism that justice wasn’t served, much as Zimmerman’s acquittal has sparked anger and some demonstrations. Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan, who plays Grant in Fruitvale, both have spoken out about the Zimmerman case; reviewers also have addressed the parallels.
“Obviously, this event puts the movie in the public zeitgeist,” Weinstein Co. president of distribution Erik Lomis said Sunday. “I think it touches a public nerve.”
The critically acclaimed film, a certain awards contender, won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year before making its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Fruitvale saw some of its biggest numbers at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, but it also saw keen interest at art-house theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Overall, the film played well across ethnic groups. Caucasians made up 43 percent of the those buying tickets, followed by African-Americans (29 percent), Hispanics (13 percent) and other groups (15 percent).
The film goes into an additional six markets this coming Friday before expanding nationwide on July 26.
Fruitvale is the second movie to find itself connected to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. Last year, 20th Century Fox was gearing up to promote its summer comedy Neighborhood Watch when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot Martin in Sanford, Fla., alleging self defense.
The studio quickly scaled back its marketing campaign and re-titled the film The Watch. The movie, about a group of neighborhood watch volunteers who discover aliens in their area, nose-dived at the summer 2012 box office. Fox insiders continue to believe that the comedy — with a cast led by Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn — suffered because of its connection to real-life events.
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