By Betsy Gilpin
Just Mercy, co-written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, chronicles the efforts of idealistic young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, to free a black man, Walter McMillan, wrongly convicted for the murder of a white girl in Alabama. Yes, viewing it is heavy sledding, but hope shines through. The acting is superb. The role of Stevenson is played by Michael B. Jordon and that of McMillan by Jamie Foxx. The supporting cast was excellent as well.
I had read the book, a memoir of the same title, and while the book described lawyer Stevenson’s efforts on behalf of a number of wrongly convicted people, the movie focuses in on the case of Walter McMillan. Stevenson’s strong character in the face of racial harassment and his dedication to his work reveal a well-developed sense of moral responsibility that propels him in his pursuit of justice. For that alone, this movie is a true inspiration.
Both the book and the movie present a clear picture of the injustice prevalent in the legal system in Alabama and throughout the south. While the story begins in 1989 and extends through the mid 1990s, it is unlikely that things have changed much. One startling fact presented is that one out of nine people on death row is found innocent either pre or post execution.
The Movie Database does not rate the movie highly. Perhaps the subject is just too disturbing for those doing the reviews. White fragility, anyone? Similarly, the Academy Awards nominations ignore it entirely, which is ironic since there was abundant criticism that no persons of color garnered nominations. In my view, it warranted several nominations, in particular for Jamie Foxx. You could read clearly in his face the fear and frustrations experienced during McMillan’s ordeal.
Please do go see this movie. It is key in educating ourselves about the injustices faced in our legal system, particularly by persons of color. Do bring a hanky, but you will be gripped by the events depicted in the film, and come away with a keen appreciation of the work being done by people such as Bryan Stevenson and his colleagues.