Earlier this week, I went to the see Just Mercy, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. Just Mercy is the movie adaptation of the book by the same title written by Bryan Stevenson played by Michael B. Jordan. Stevenson, then a young lawyer, founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization, to provide legal counsel to those who can’t afford it. For the most part, he and his colleagues represent wrongly accused or people who were poorly defended by their public defenders.
The main case that Just Mercy focuses on is the story for Walter “Johnny D” McMillian played by Foxx. McMillian is a black man accused and sent to death row for the shooting death of a young white woman. His arrest and conviction were based solely on the false and coerced statements of Ralph Meyers. There was no physical evidence that could have been remotely construed as linking him to the crime, however authorities feeling pressured and ashamed for an unsolved case conspire to frame an innocent man. An innocent black man. The story takes place in Alabama in the late 1980s, early 1990s. The white residents in the small town don’t take kindly to a big shot Harvard lawyer—Black at that–kicking up dust on behalf of another black man.
As expected, the movie was quite emotional. I heard several people sniffling in the theater when the credits were rolling. I held my tears at bay during the film. Stevenson witnesses the execution of one of his clients, per his request. After a motion is denied in court, McMillian refuses to re-enter his death row cell. In the book, Stevenson detailed juggling several cases as he also worked on McMillian’s case over the years. The issue of multiple cases was addressed via a quick montage of changing inmate faces sitting across from him explaining their situations. I don’ t understand why Brie Larsen’s character had so much screen time when she wasn’t such a major character in the book (though at the end of the movie it’s stated that she stayed with EJI for 30 years.) I think it’s another case of studios adamantly inserting a theme of white savior into a movie about black people battling injustice.
Anthony Ray Hinton was one of Bryan’s clients and was portrayed by rapper Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. Hinton was also on death row at the same prison as McMillian. His memoir The Sun Does Shine was the June 2018 Oprah Book Club pick. Hinton spent over thirty years on death row, also for a crime he didn’t commit. Good luck keeping it together when you watch the real footage of his release into the arms of his family at the end of Just Mercy. The real Bryan Stevenson is also in the shot.
Just Mercy was published long before The Sun Does Shine, but Hinton’s release is mentioned as an afterward at the end of the book. I had just finished reading Just Mercy in late December when I saw Oprah’s Instagram post about Shine as part of a roundup of holiday books. I commented underneath the post that I had just read Just Mercy which is why I recognized the name Anthony Ray Hinton. Oprah (or the person running her account) “liked” it. I was beyond hyped and of course had to post it myself.
Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for:
6:50 pm movie previews began
7:12 pm opening scene of Just Mercy began
7:29 pm Michael B. Jordan was shirtless
It was bittersweet. Bitter because it’s the moment when the correctional officer subjects Stevenson to a strip search to see his client. Lawyers are exempt from strip searches, but the CO is drunk with power. Stevenson endures the humiliation not only because he needs to speak to his client, but also because he doesn’t want to possibly make trouble for his client. It’s sweet because MICHAEL B. JORDAN IS SHIRTLESS! His physique is slimmer than in Black Panther and the Creed movies, but still oh-so-gorgeous nonetheless. 😊
The book is worth a read and the movie is worth a watch because these events did not take place long ago. Even if they did, it’s imperative that people be made aware of the injustices that their fellow human beings are enduring in the name of the law.