Just Mercy, which released in theaters January 2020, tells the powerful true story of Bryan Stevenson’s work on civil rights and criminal reform issues through the Equal Justice Initiative. In light of recent racial violence and the painful protests, many Americans have committed to educate themselves in more depth about racial injustices in our country—Just Mercy is one powerful film resource that both educates and moves the viewer.
Warner Brothers has opened up access to this new release film for free for the next month across many of the most popular streaming services, including Apple TV, Prime, YouTube and more. You can see the full list of free steaming locations and learn more about Just Mercy at www.justmercyfilm.com.
Who is Bryan Stevenson?
Bryan Stevenson is a Christian human-rights lawyer working tirelessly to provide legal counsel to the poorest and most vulnerable inmates in America. He opened the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in 1989 and focuses on restoring justice within the prison system. “EJI challenges poverty and racial injustice, advocates for equal treatment in the criminal justice system and creates hope for marginalized communities.” Not only is Stevenson’s book a runaway success, but he’s also a powerful speaker. In fact, his TED Talk is among the most viewed TED talks in existence—check out his passionate message here:
A powerful film
Just Mercy premiered at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past September and immediately people began to buzz that the film may win an Oscar. The film stars Michael B. Jordan and Oscar winners Brie Larson and Jamie Foxx. It was directed by award-winning director Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle, Short Term 12).
Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, who we meet as a young Harvard Law School grad in the late 1980s. Eager to offer legal support to the most vulnerable in society, Stevenson moves to the American South and begins working as a defense lawyer in communities where the color of your skin seems to matter more than whether or not you committed a crime. The film depicts Stevenson’s tireless work on the case of Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx), who has been wrongfully convicted of murder and is awaiting execution in Alabama. Brie Larson stars as Eva Ansley, a young woman working alongside Stevenson to establish the Equal Justice Initiative. The film depicts the remarkable diligence it takes, year after year, to exonerate an innocent man.
Speaking to the Christian Post, Michael B. Jordan explained how central the Christian faith was in the film. “Faith and hope is a big part of Bryan Stevenson’s upbringing. He grew up in the church. I did as well, and so did Jamie. And for all of us, faith is directly connected to hope. Bryan is an advocate for hope and optimism, so those were things that were just very important to the story. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to make sure that was incorporated.”
Prison reform is having a moment
In the past few years, leaders across the political spectrum have been working together to reform our prison system. Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West have been making national headlines for their prison reform activism—Kim has helped dozens of prisoners find release and is currently studying to take the bar in 2022. Meanwhile, Kanye has brought his Sunday Service into a Houston jail, bringing joy and hope to the incarcerated. Christian crossover singer Lauren Daigle has also prioritized playing private concerts in prisons in recent years.
With high-profile celebrities and major films like Just Mercy helping to personalize the faces of the people who live behind bars, Americans are taking notice. Can we infuse more compassion into our justice system? Republicans and Democrats seem to be uniting to find a way to say “yes.”
Rethinking the death penalty
America is well-known for being “tough on crime” and in certain communities, there’s widespread support for the death penalty. However, on a national level, support for the death penalty is decreasing; in fact, it’s now at an all-time low.
Stevenson is leading the charge on changing public opinion of capital punishment. He articulately reminds us that “for every 10 people we’ve executed in this country, we’ve now identified an innocent person who’s been released. It’s a shocking rate of error.” Even for the guilty, they may have still been children or gravely mentally ill when they committed their crimes. Stevenson believes that every person deserves mercy and that our justice system can still honor victims, while also removing excess cruelty from the punishment process.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu sums up Stevenson’s impact well; without qualification, he is “America’s Nelson Mandela.”
The tragic events of the past few weeks have revealed deep wounds and inequalities in our country on issues of race and power. Watching and sharing the message of this film can be a part of a healing solution.
Photo courtesy: ©Warner Brothers
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