Just Mercy tells the story of Harvard law graduate Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), who went to Alabama intending to change things for the innocent men on death row. The film is based on true stories.
With Black Lives Matter on the nation’s mind recently, Just Mercy is the most recent in a long line of films recommended to watch. I’ve already watched many of them: 3 seasons of Queen Sugar, 3 seasons of Dear White People, When They See Us, 13th, Selma, all of Orange is the New Black, Queen and Slim, The Hate U Give, Mudbound, even the superhero Luke Cage. Watching Just Mercy was my next logical step.
Bryan Stevenson has been a civil rights defense attorney for over 30 years now, and has made significant gains. But he got off to a rocky start.
He began with just one helper, Eva Ansley (Brie Larson). She worked free at first. (I do hope she eventually started receiving a paycheck.) She stayed with the him and the Equal Justice Initiative as it grew.
There were several men on death row when Stevenson reached Alabama. He worked on all their cases. The one that received the most attention in the film was the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx).
McMillian had been convicted of killing a white woman. The one bit of evidence against him was made up, and all the evidence supporting his innocence was suppressed by the prosecution. His situation was not unusual in Alabama. Black men were routinely convicted and executed for crimes committed by white men. White men who went absolutely free.
Stevenson failed to help sometimes. Sometimes he lost. At first, he couldn’t believe how unfair and unjust the courts in Alabama were. The law and justice didn’t figure in the court decisions he tried to overturn. He fought against how racist and corrupt the police were.
He learned quickly. He used the media and every other trick at his command. He got the McMillian case on 60 Minutes. He wrote the book on which the film is based.
I found the film difficult to watch – horrific at times. The blatant injustice in the legal system and the racist mindset behind it is maddening. A beautifully written script and outstanding performances from the cast made every point hit hard. Straightforward, no-nonsense direction from Destin Daniel Cretton served the equal justice theme well.
This is an important film about a man who has spent a lifetime fighting for equal justice. What better time to watch it than right now?
This film is streaming on Prime Video and is free to view for the next few weeks. Here’s the trailer.