On the same weekend that George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, “Fruitvale Station,” a movie about the fatal shooting of young African-American man, scored a huge debut at the specialty box office.
“Fruitvale Station,” first-time director Ryan Coogler's drama about the last day in the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, opened to $377,285 from just seven screens for a spectacular $53,898 per-theater average for the Weinstein Company.
Grant was fatally shot by a guard after an altercation on a BART train in Oakland, Calif., on New Year's Day, 2009.
"Tragically, there's no denying that reality has linked these two incidents," said Weinstein's head of distribution Erik Lomis. "It's powerful film and it's important, and we want as many people to hear its message as possible."
Lomis noted that the film played broadly. It received an "A" CinemaScore from audiences, which were 43% white and 29% African American. He said that the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland — not far from where Grant was shot — was running neck-and-neck with the New York's Angelika Theaters in terms of weekend grosses.
The Oscar Grant Foundation, which was established in the aftermath of Grant's death, sent a representative to the Zimmerman trial and spoken out about the trial in public and on its Facebook page.
The promotional images used on the film's Facebook page and its website include one (above) in which Coogler makes the connection explicit: "Anytime someone's life is lost and there's an inkling of politics involved, that person is not around to defend himself and his character gets pulled in different directions depending on what side of the fence you sit on. We saw it happen with Trayvon Martin, and it shows no sign of slowing down."
Lomis said the Weinstein Co. would expand "Fruitvale Station," which it acquired after it won the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, to Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Dallas, Houston and Atlanta next weekend and go nationwide on July 26.
Elsewhere in the specialty market, Fox Searchlight added 13 new markets and 60 theaters for “The Way Way Back,” and the coming-of-age comedy took in approximately $1,110,000 for a per-screen average of a little over $14,000 a theater. It’s taken in $1.8 million after the first 10 days.
“Our hold was good in the same theaters from last weekend, and we can see that the expansions in already opened markets were very good as well,” said Fox Searchlight sr. vice-president Frank Rodriguez. “We will add 34 new markets next weekend, bringing our total theater count to between 250-300 total locations.”