By Elia Esparza
There’s an indie film that is about to be released that has got all of Hollywood abuzz. Guess that’s what happens when a film takes home the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
No doubt, Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut of Fruitvale Station is the talk of the town—it is a very moving film—but we’ll talk about that later.
For now, what stands out is the outstanding performances of its cast: Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights), Octavia Spencer (The Help), and Melonie Diaz (Nothing Like The Holidays, Raising Victor Vargas), the actress that completely brings it home with her stellar performance. She certainly caught our attention!
Diaz, 29 is from Manhattan raised in the East Village projects, which explains where she draws her strength as Sophina, the girlfriend, best friend and baby mama of the film’s victim Oscar Grant (Jordan). No one knows Oscar better than Sophina. “This story affected me so much, the way it ended, so tragic,” she told a TV interviewer. But the actors had to keep it together because Fruitvale Station was a 20-day shoot.
Diaz brings to the role a natural strength that is relatable to a lot of young single mothers in relationships where they are trying to keep it together for their family. “She works at WalMart,” said Diaz on her character. “By nature of being in the city and being in that area, you grow up a bit quicker than other places,” Diaz also said in a Vanity Fair interview.
A trained actor (graduate of the Professional Performing Arts high school), she caught our cinematic attention in 2002’s Raising Victor Vargas, while a student at N.Y.U’s undergraduate film program. She is still amazed that people continue to recognize her from this film. “That was 10 years, ago,” she said, “the way people react to that movie is really special.”
Fruitvale Station is the raw biopic based on the last day in the life of San Francisco transit-police-shooting victim Oscar Grant which opens July 12th. I believe her work here will elevate her IMDB Star Meter a few levels. “I’m playing a real-life person, so there’s a lot of pressure to do things right. It was hard,” she told Vanity Fair.
Diaz will soon be seen in a guest spot role on HBO’s Girls although according to the actress, acting hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm for getting behind the camera one day. And no matter her success as an actor, she plans to go back to N.Y.U. to complete her degree. “I think it’s important to finish what you start.”
Director Coogler did an impressive job of telling this controversial and emotional story. Fruitvale Station is about the last day of one young man’s life in in 2008 (New Year’s Eve). Grant is a troubled father who is trying to do right by his family and his baby mama, Sophina (Diaz). Sundance embraced Coogler and his film because 100%, it did not disappoint. Those familiar with this real-life story know what happens and how it ends, yet for those 24-hours leading up to the new year 2009 and as the story unfolds, the audience embraces the characters’ journey and it is very hard to let go at the end. Like the actual story shocked us to our core, so will Fruitvale Station.
Impressive performance, Melonie Diaz, you’re a rising star!