Melonie Diaz, the Power of Diversity, and Fruitvale Station
I spoke with actress Melonie Diaz to discuss her new role in the upcoming Weinstein Co. release, Fruitvale Station. The film is based on the true story of Oscar Grant. A young man who had an unfortunate run-in with the BART police in Oakland, California. I absolutely loved the film. Here’s my initial uncut reaction: I lost it for the last 15 minutes of Fruitvale Station and couldn’t compose myself. If this film isn’t worthy of multiple Oscar nominations for Michael, Melonie, Octavia, and Ryan, I’m going to be really upset. So should you. Initially, I was pretty apprehensive because I thought I was being served ethnic porn during the private screening. Which I hate with all my guts just the same as I hate poverty porn. It’s not what you think it is. Unless you know what it is: feel good films for the majority that perpetuate and reaffirm exaggerated stereotypes. They dehumanize us. But not in Fruitvale Station. The film delivered. The characters weren’t one or two-dimensional. They had depth. A soul. A heart. They were portrayed as real people. And I’m beaming with pompous pride that one of our own played a main role and knocked it out of the park.
Did you audition for the role of Sophina?
Melonie: No. Ryan and I had a Skype meeting and I think we had similar ideas about what happened; the reality of the situation, the amount of social injustice, and racial profiling. We both felt like this movie could be a vehicle to start conversations about what is happening right now in terms of our humanity and the way we treat each other. It was really exciting to work and talk to someone who has similar feelings about what’s happening.
Were you nervous about the high expectations being that the film is based on a true story? You pulled it off excellently, by the way.
Melonie: I was terrified. The first time I met her I was almost very quiet but I’m like that. I’m quiet ‘til I know you. She’s a girl from the Bay. She’s been through a lot. When meeting her, you don’t want to ask because it’s kind of hard to revisit those feelings. By the end of it, I think she’s cool with it. I do know that she’ll never see the movie. Ever. And I understand.
I’m glad to see that everyone was portrayed as real and raw. For your character, Sophina, she’s this strong young woman that stands behind her boyfriend no matter what. She’s tough but loving. Gives Oscar tough love. Did she resonate with you? Are there any similarities between you two?
Melonie: Yeah. When meeting her I was like “how am I going to play the last minutes of the movie?” I’ve never lost somebody like that. I couldn’t have even imagined that kind of pain. That was one of the reasons why I was afraid to take the part. Because I was like “I don’t know if I could do those last twenty minutes.” But then, what I do realize-when meeting her- I feel like what we have in common is that I love really, really deeply and I love hard. For me, is all or nothing. I felt like I love like her and I’m going to use that because I couldn’t imagine losing somebody like that. I still can’t. It’s pretty intense.
I’m always going off about the lack of diversity in the films that we make. I don’t see as many films with both the African American and the Latino community. We tend to write each other out; though this film is based on a true story. You have both the African American and Latino community in Fruitvale doing a wonderful job. Have people come up to you and asked you about it?
Melonie: I think what’s more important is that Oakland is as much a character in this movie as we all are. Having lived there for like a month and a half is by far one of the most diverse and colorful cities there is and I think that’s part of the culture there. A lot of people don’t know that. Whether or not is talked about in movies, I do believe that it exists out there. In the Lower East Side [where I’m from], I have Black friends. Everybody is together. But I think that’s a big part of Oakland. It’s not just the cast. Our cinematographer is White. Our executive producer who’s a lesbian. Our producer is an Asian. And we have Forest Whitaker. The diversity extends and it’s not just the cast. I think that’s part of the magic of the movie.
How was it to work with Ryan, Michael, Octavia, Ariana and the rest of the cast?
Melonie: Sometimes you don’t really like-like everybody. Nobody would admit it. But I feel so blessed that everybody in this movie-and hopefully you’ll get to speak to everybody- is so wonderful and on the same page. Again, I feel like that’s lying. It’s a testament to him [Ryan] because I think he knew that he was going to cast us and we were all going to get along. I think the audience is picking up on it. It’s the camaraderie of it all. I think it’s because we all share the same anger and passion about telling this story.
How did you get involved in the acting world? I’ve seen you in Raising Victor Vargas, Be Kind Rewind, and all those films. Did your family push you into it or was it you?
Melonie: Nobody in my family is an artist. I’m like the weird one. I was the eccentric one. Which is a nice way of saying weird. I was in a baseball team. I was like a tomboy and one of the moms was telling my mom “I think she has personality. You should put her in an acting class.” I was like 11 or something and that’s how it started. It was something that happened. And my mom-I have a really supportive family. So they were like “whatever. Whatever you want to do.”
What’s next for you after Fruitvale?
Melonie: I just did an episode of ‘Girls’ on HBO. In terms of a feature, the bar has been set really high. I don’t know. I feel like what is meant to be, is meant to be. I definitely want to do more comedy. I’m not sure. Some TV. I’m figuring it out.
There you go. Go check out Fruitvale Station this Friday, July 12. Take your loved ones with you. The film is a testament of the power of diversity. Something we here, at upliftt, stand for. It’s pivotal that we go and buy tickets of our own films. Not in frivolous blind support of just about anything regardless of how good or bad it is but in solidarity with the verisimilitude that we can create great content that is worthy of our dollars. Fruitvale Station is one of them. Purchase your ticket and go see it.