OAKLAND -- "Is it painful to watch?" asked Cephus Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant III. "Yes, but it is a voice that got to people.
"It is authentic."
Four and a half years after the police shooting that rocked the Bay Area, a mix of pain and pride was on display as Grant's friends and family joined filmmakers Thursday night for a screening of the upcoming film that tells Grant's story.
The private screening of "Fruitvale Station" played to a full house Thursday as family and friends of Grant joined San Francisco Film Society members and packed the iconic theater to watch the critically acclaimed -- and very personal -- story of Grant's final hours play out before their eyes.
Grant, 22, was killed when BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot him in the back as he lay on the ground at the Fruitvale station in the early morning of January 1, 2009. Grant had been detained by police as officers sorted out a reported fight on a train; Mehserle said he had meant to use a stun gun on Grant, who police said was resisting arrest.
In January, "Fruitvale Station" took home the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The film is considered a likely contender for this year's Academy Award nominations.
For many, though, the film is not so much about the attention it's receiving as it is the spotlight it's putting on the life and death of Grant, a San Leandro resident who had a daughter who was four years old at the time of the shooting. The film shows Grant, who had served time in state prison, determined to turn his life around for his family before the shooting.
"He was very layered, a very complex young man," said actor Michael B. Jordan, who plays Grant. "I just took it as an opportunity to ... really get his story out there and get it told the right way."
Added Johnson: "Oscar was a father that loved his daughter, was a son that loved his mother, he was a brother and a community member. Those people that he touched can speak of his character.
"This movie allows us to see that young black and brown men are not demons."
First-time director Ryan Coogler shared that goal -- that the film would teach people to see more than stereotypes.
"One thing I live with every day is the thought that someone or something could take my life, and more than anything, what it sadly often boils down to is sides," he said. "As human beings we have a tendency to dehumanize each other for some reason. I hope this film on some level tries to counteract that.
"The people in this story, and many of those that watch this movie, understand what it means to lose someone you love. Everybody's life matters to someone."
Academy-Award winning actress Octavia Spencer, who plays Grant's mother, said that the film is an unflinching portrait of Grant's flaws and his promise, a family man who was trying to do the right thing.
"The movie does not idealize him, but it gives him a voice, shows who he is," Spencer said. "And it examines the community that is part of the overall story."
Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, who produced the film, said he wanted the film to tell a story important to the people of Oakland.
"I'm hoping that the people here in Oakland will embrace (the film) as something that is authentic and honest and true to them," Whitaker said. "I thought there was an injustice that needed to be addressed.
"It's always important to me to find a way to put a human face on a story. I thought this was an opportunity to do that."
Grant's story is, sadly, not unique, said NAACP president Ben Jealous, who spoke of similar cases of civilians who died at the hands of police.
"This movie reminds us that it is wise to remember each case of men of color who suffered this," Jealous said. "It focuses on the positive aspects of his life and it reminds us that we have to never allow this to happen again."
Added Jordan: "I hope the message is that you are not stuck. That there is a way to a better life. That you can do it. You just need to keep going.
Contact Katie Nelson at 925-945-4782 or follow her at Twitter.com/katienelson210.