If I have extra time at work, I like to listen to TED talks. One TED talk I recently watched was lawyer Bryan Stevenson who talks about racial injustice within our legal system. Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to those arrested illegally and those who are innocent of the crimes they have supposedly committed. The Equal Justice Initiative fights back against the use of capital punishment in certain states. Stevenson wrote a book about this injustice titled Just Mercy where a subsequent movie adaptation was made. I watched Just Mercy and it left me feeling broken and infuriated.
Just Mercy follows Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan) as he is beginning to establish the Equal Justice Initiative. While reviewing cases in Alabama, he’s introduced to Walter “Johnny D” McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx) who’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Walter has lost hope in his case due to several lawyers offering their assistance and then declining the case. After Stevenson meets with Johnny’s family does Johnny realizes Stevenson’s intentions are pure. Stevenson faces several roadblocks in the case such as being physically intimidated by the police, the blatant refusal by the judge of a retrial even though the evidence is shady, and the reluctant town who is convinced Johnny is guilty. Stevenson barrels through the obstacles and ultimately, Johnny is released from prison.
The whole cast of this movie shined in replicating Stevenson’s story. Michael B. Jordan has quickly become one of my favorite actors on screen. I wasn’t expecting to see Brie Larson in this. She plays Stevenson’s partner. I’m a fan of Brie Larson despite what her haters feel about her. Jamie Foxx of course does a great job. The best performance in this film comes from Rob Morgan who plays another death row inmate, Herbert Richardson. While Stevenson does everything in his power to rescue him, Richardson is executed. Morgan’s emotional performance as he awaits to be escorted to the electric chair was powerful. Where was Morgan’s Oscar Nomination??
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this movie infuriated me. After watching the film, I read more about Johnny D’s story, Richardson’s story, and another inmate featured in the film. The movie is accurate based on these real events. Our justice system is broken and Stevenson is one of the passionate fighters who is fighting the just cause. Racism is responsible for putting Black men in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. As a reminder, this story took place in Alabama in the 80s. This only occurred 30 years ago. I’m against the death penalty and this movie reminded me of why I hold this stance.
Just Mercy was a heartwrenching story about how racism destroys lives. It’s a film that’s uncomfortable to watch, although that’s part of the importance of the film. I have added Stevenson’s book to my TBR on Goodreads to continue the education of racism and how it seeps into our justice system.