What will be one of the most inspiring and passionate movies of the new decade was released at the very end of the last decade Dec. 25. “Just Mercy” tells the remarkable true story of a Harvard Law School graduate, Bryan Stevenson, and his efforts to provide legal defense for those wrongly convicted or unable to afford proper representation on Alabama’s death row.
Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989 with operations director Eva Ansley. EJI works exclusively with communities marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment. It is “committed to changing the narrative about race in America.” This film has the power to do just that.
One of the first cases EJI encountered was that of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian. He was on death row for the murder of an 18-year-old woman, who was eleven miles away from him at the time of her death. He was held on death row prior to being convicted.
His trial lasted a day and a half, and although the jury sentenced him to life, the judge overturned the ruling and sentenced him to death. Stevenson and Ansley very quickly discovered just how innocent McMillian was and fought to bring him justice.
Michael B. Jordan (“Creed,” “Black Panther”) as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx (“Django: Unchained,” “Horrible Bosses”) as McMillan deliver a plethora of one-liners that could single-syllabically change the world.
“Just Mercy” tackles numerous issues concerning civil and basic human rights. It covers the one-drop rule, white fragility, police brutality, mass incarceration, capital punishment and so much more. It takes place in the late ’80s but is reminiscent of the Jim Crow era. It is chilling how present these stories are.
The film does not back down from the reality of our world today. It does not matter that this story took place 30 years ago, because it is just as relevant now than ever.
The United States houses about five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the incarcerated population. In 1972, there were 200,000 people incarcerated in the U.S., but today that number has reached 2.2 million. Over 540,000 people are being held behind bars before they have been convicted or sentenced. People of color make up 37 percent of the U.S., but 67 percent of the incarcerated population.
“Just Mercy” is a story of a great hero, but it is not a story of championship. It tackles racial issues in a way that so many other movies prior have failed. This film is a wake-up call to the United States. It is a film that everyone can learn something from. Its promotional line, “This is about all of us,” rings truer than it should.
This movie is heart-wrenching. It will break your heart because it shows you for what it is, while inspiring you to take action to change it. Everyone should see this movie, and those who do not recognize its important are the ones who are in most need of its message.