Street artist murals to promote ‘Fruitvale Station’ hit some walls

Ron English's "Abraham Obama" mural that went up in Boston on July 4th 2008. Daniel Lahoda is dressed as Lincoln.
(Ron English)

When Hollywood and street artists try to work together, the road can be bumpy.

To promote the upcoming movie “Fruitvale Station,” about the 2009 fatal shooting of Oakland’s Oscar Grant, the Weinstein Co. commissioned three murals in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco to be painted by well-known street artists Ron English, Lydia Emily and LNY. But logistical issues and creative conflicts between some of the artists and the studio have led to delays and disagreements.

Production on the L.A. wall was supposed to start June 27, but the project was suddenly and unexpectedly halted that morning. As of press time, the L.A. mural was on hold.

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The Fruitvale incident sparked protests and inspired not only the movie, directed by Ryan Coogler, but the creation of murals in Oakland commemorating Grant.

Street artist Ron English created an image for the L.A. wall that was to be wheatpasted on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Sanborn Avenue in Silver Lake. Grant’s face was seen over a rainbow-colored backdrop, not unlike the “Abraham Obama” image he created for the 2008 presidential election.

English’s first choice, however, was a version of a Norman Rockwell painting, in which he depicted a little African American boy with a target on his back. He was told, however, that the image was “too aggressive.”

“It’s been pretty frustrating,” English said. “They rejected my first idea. The next one we changed about eight times and the director got involved and rejected it. The director said it can’t be anything negative or about the police or guns.”

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For a short period, the Weinstein team considered replacing the New York-based English with L.A. street artist Mear One. Eventually English and the Weinsteins settled on the rainbow-colored image and English was brought back on.

Sources close to the project, however, say that Coogler is hav¿ing last minute doubts, and he and English are revisiting what the L.A. wall will depict.

“‘Fruitvale Station’ is a very personal and important project for Ryan Coogler. How the message of the film is represented in the community is important to all of us, as well as the family, friends, of Oscar Grant,” Harvey Weinstein said via email. “It’s disappointing we couldn’t see eye to eye on the L.A. mural, but we respect the artist’s integrity as well as Ryan’s. After looking at many options and not feeling comfortable, I advised Ryan that for now we should move on. We are, however, excited to see the final products in San Francisco and New York.”


L.A. artist Lydia Emily was originally to paint the San Francisco wall with Oakland-based street artist Eddie Colla. After ongoing creative differences, however, Colla quit the project.

“Asking for approval, I think, is reasonable because they’re using it to promote a product,” Colla says. “But there was this ridiculous list of criteria. It was so hypocritical. [The director] didn’t want the mural to be about Oscar Grant’s death — but that’s what the movie was about. That’s what happened.”

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Emily is now painting the San Francisco mural solo on the side of Ian Ross Gallery, south of Market Street.


New York’s LNY is creating the image for the Williamsburg, Brooklyn wall. That mural, however, is also on hold due to logistical issues, says the Weinstein Co.

This is the first time the Weinstein Co. has done a mural promotion. The company felt it was a cool, untraditional idea that was also in sync with the movie.

The only clue that the murals are movie ads are indiscreet hashtags at the bottom of each mural: "#FruitvaleStation” and "#Oscar GrantRIP.”