‘Just Mercy’ displays injustice

Book written by Equal Justice Initiative founder comes to life on screen.

Just Mercy Trailer

Chloe Presley-Gundaker, Managing Editor

After spending 6 years in Monroeville County Jail, with the constant fear that his death sentence was creeping up on him for a murder he didn’t commit, Walter “Johnnie D” McMillian was released once it became too obvious that he was innocent. 

“What happened to me could have happened to anyone else. I was convicted and sentenced to death on the false testimony of one man,” McMillian said to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee upon his release. “I am here today to urge you to do all that is in your power to prevent what happened to me from happening to anyone else.”

Since his release in 1993, the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization founded by Bryan Stevenson, McMillian’s lawyer, has released 135 people from prison who were wrongly convicted.

At the end of 2019, director Destin Daniel Cretton decided to tell this story through the movie “Just Mercy,” a story that follows Stevenson’s attempt to get McMillian released, and is based on a book written by Stevenson, with the same title.

The film often leads you frustrated and unsettled. The blatantly racist system that McMillian endured for six years makes you want to get up and scream right in the middle of the theater as you watch these injustices unfold.

Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Stevenson provides a new take on how a lead role in a drama can be played. Most films in this category relying on passionate, almost angry scenes by having characters scream at the top of their lungs. Jordan doesn’t do that; instead, he remains composed, only seeming to ‘lose it’ in a few scenes. It not only makes you even more vexed than before, but shows how African Americans are forced to act when surrounded by unjust authority.

Jamie Foxx, who plays McMillian, perfectly conveys the conflicted nature of the man on death row who has lost all hope that he may get out simply because of the color of his skin.

Other notable actors in this film are Rob Morgans portrayal of Herbert Richardson, a veteran with severe PTSD facing death, Rafe Shall’s portrayal of Tommy Chapman, a bigoted district attorney, and Brie Larson’s portrayal of Eva Ansley, the fiery operations director of EJI.

One complaint about this film is the fact that it received a score of 84% on rotten tomatoes. While that score is nothing one should be ashamed of, based on the audience score of 99%, it should have definitely been rated higher. The cinematography follows the time frame of the film, and doesn’t look cheaply made; the actors seemed to put their all into their roles, and the tense undertones of the film makes it all the more hard to look away.

Upon McMillians release in 1993, McMillian became an advocate for an ending of the death penalty until his death in 2013. This movie portrays the hardships that McMillian had to go through perfectly, that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

“I would like to share one thing with you,” McMillian said at the end of his speech. “Justice is forever shattered when we kill an innocent man.”