movie thoughts: Just Mercy (2019)

I decided to watch this film after I finished reading Bryan Stevenson’s book by the same name.

The story focuses on Bryan Stevenson, an African-American lawyer that graduated from Harvard and has decided to devote his life to helping people in prison, especially those on death row. In his book, Stevenson is able to talk about the different kinds of cases he handled over the years, going into detail about a variety of clients. Of course, you can’t do that with a 2 hour film so the focus of the movie is on Walter McMillan’s case, which had some blatant corruption and racism all over it and gave the filmmakers a chance to touch upon many parents of Stevenson’s work.

Overall, the movie does a good job of dramatizing the true story, though obviously things had to be tweaked and changed to create a story arc with some extra drama, but it was done well and mostly kept to the way that Stevenson described the events of working in Alabama as part of the Equal Justice Initiative, starting in the 1980s. It’s part court room drama, part detective story and, at its core, a story about an America that we like to pretend doesn’t exist, a land of inequity and racism.

If you liked this movie at all, I HIGHLY recommend picking up Stevenson’s book. It is a very quick read, but he talks a lot more about his work and while McMillan’s case does loom large, he also details some other issues with the American justice system and how it targets the poor, BIPOC people and people suffering from mental illnesses. There is a lot more to EJI and Bryan Stevenson’s story than could fit in this movie and you will be inspired and enraged by his book. But, just like Stevenson, you will not give up hope but feel empowered to fight and try to make a difference. Because if a small group like EJI could overturn convictions and even end the death penalty in some states, there is hope that all of us can enact change in our world.

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