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We have seen the complex depths of black manhood before, from actors such as Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington, or television's "The Wire," or Kanye West's music catalog. Even major studios are presenting substantial black male roles this year with "12 Years a Slave" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler." (Although the roles are still, well, a slave and a butler.)
Perhaps it's serendipity, then, that gives "Fruitvale Station" so much power: The film started trickling into theaters as the verdict was delivered in the Trayvon Martin case.
The parallels are inescapable: two young black men shot dead, both unarmed, both with checkered pasts, both accused of being responsible for their own deaths.
"Often times people can deal with certain things happening to people when they don't see them as full human beings," Coogler said. "They're not real to you, you don't know them. What makes somebody a real person is those gray areas."
What were Trayvon Martin's gray areas? All many see is black and white.
"With 'Fruitvale' opening the weekend this verdict came down, it's one of these zeitgeist moments that can't be planned and can never be predicted," said DuVernay.
"In those moments, the power of film is so abundantly clear," she said. "These two lives, Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin, really intersected in tragic and beautiful ways. One was made into a film that helps folks process and understand the tragedy of another."
The tragedy that Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die.