In 1987, Alabaman logger Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian was arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. Due to incompetencies and racism within the justice system in Alabama, McMillian was sentenced to death a few years later — though his entire case was based on a single, coerced testimony.
Enter Bryan Stevenson, a brilliant, Harvard-educated attorney who moves from Delaware to the deep South to defend death row inmates and exonerate the wrongly accused. Facing politically-motivated maneuverings and structural racism himself, Stevenson takes on the seemingly impossible challenge of securing freedom for McMillian.
Opening over the weekend, “Just Mercy” (PG-13) stars Jamie Foxx as McMillian and Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson. Directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton, the film is a powerful, sobering reminder that — as Stevenson so eloquently states — “we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
In addition to McMillian, “Just Mercy” highlights several real-life cases of men wrongly sentenced to death and raises wider questions about the U.S. justice system, mass incarceration, and excessive punishment. The Equal Justice Institute, the organization started by Stevenson, claims that for every nine people who are executed, one person on death row has been exonerated.
At first, McMillian refuses Stevenson’s help, believing the racism rooted deeply within the Alabama justice system will ensure he remains on death row. His family reveals to Stevenson that other lawyers, under the guise of helping, have taken money from Johnny D’s wife, Minnie (Karan Kendrick), without actually fighting for his freedom.
With little support, Stevenson and his colleagues, including Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), work to establish Johnny D’s alibi — he was at a church fish fry that day along with several witnesses — and challenge the testimony of a shifty witness (Tim Blake Nelson).
But Stevenson also faces larger, more imposing giants, including sheriff (Michael Harding) who led the investigation, and the complacent new district attorney (Rafe Spall), who cares more about his reputation than finding the truth. He’s not just fighting for McMillian; he’s challenging a system deeply rooted in slavery and Jim Crow.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leah MarieAnn Klett
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