Editor’s note: This review of the movie Just Mercy was written by Kiandria Cowart, a rising college junior, majoring in Communication and minoring African American Studies.
Our goal is to be able to become antiracists, but we first have to become aware of all inequalities. Although police brutality is a major one, it is not the only one. I believe the broader spectrum of police brutality is police misconduct, that is the wrongful conviction of inmates, tampering with evidence to create false arrests, and bribing or intimidating people of lesser power to become the victor. All of this can lead to a person’s life being stolen from them and lived out in a jail cell. A portrayal of this is shown in Just Mercy, originally a book written by Bryan Stevenson, but was released in 2019 as a motion picture. It is still extremely relevant today.
Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, was uprooted to Alabama to follow his passion. He had no family there, and only one colleague in the beginning; however, over time we see he expands his practice and hires more colleagues. Another friend, though not casted, is his relationship with God. We see this from the first scenes of the movie as he comes in contact with an inmate that was also in a church choir as a kid. They bond through their church childhood; this can be noted also through his calling into his chosen career path. Later in the movie when he is overwhelmed with emotions we see him going to church to grapple with his feelings of defeat. There he realizes that he is far from alone, something we all can relate to.
I think by now we all have an idea of what systematic racism is. But if not, systematic racism is the oppression of a racial group through policies and practices.
“Systematic racism is the oppression of a racial group through policies and practices.”
After watching Just Mercy I was reminded again of how cruel the justice system really is, and that it only takes one person with a passion to help change it. This movie is based on a true story and doesn’t have the packed action some of us might be used to. Instead it is packed with the unveiled truth of the criminal justice system for Black people. Before I watched this movie I was aware of our biased system and how many black men and women are wrongfully imprisoned. But I had not considered the ones that sat on death row. At the end of the movie we are shown that “for every nine people who have been executed in the U.S., one person on death row has been proven innocent and released, a shocking rate of error.”
Stevenson’s main goal is to provide adequate legal representation to those who are wrongfully imprisoned, who need their innocence proven and their lives given back. I want us to put ourselves in a man or woman’s shoes who was chained and thrown in jail for a crime they did not commit later being sentenced to death. It is challenging I know; I have been trying to imagine the slightest bit of terror they experienced but in the end all we can do is imagine, hopefully never experience. But unfortunately, the chances of this happening are higher for Black people. The director did not have to directly tell us that, he shows us throughout the movie.
Every cell that the camera zoomed in on had a Black person in it, the hands that grabbed the jail bars were Black, making us aware that Black people fill up prisons more than White people. This narrative of Blacks and jail has been ingrained into the minds of people for many years. We are not judged based on the evidence given, instead on the color of our skin. Walter McMillian was on death row because of the color of his skin. He was judged guilty the first time in court, but thankfully Bryan Stevenson was strong spirited and fought back against the law harder the second time.
The story of Walter McMillian happened in 1988, but now, in 2020, Black men and women are still being arrested and charged for crimes they did not commit or petty crimes that their White counterparts do not get charged for. These injustices have to come to light for everyone to see; and more importantly they need to be stopped. The court of law is here to punish us for breaking the law, not punish us for our skin color and ethnicity.
Just Mercy is an amazing movie that fills us with hope, although at times it becomes emotional to watch. Seeing a Black person tormented for trying to do the right thing is never something that is watched lightly, but in the end we are left with the feeling of empowerment. Black cinema movies are a great way to become enlightened around issues of racism throughout history. Besides reading, these movies are another means for us to learn about our past struggles, defeats, and achievements. I grew up watching them with my family, all the way from Roots, down to The Number 42, each one of them leaving an impression on me and changing the way I viewed history.
A few additional historically based movies or period movies will help raise your awareness about racial discrimination and the fight for racial justice include the following:
- What are some of your favorite historically-based movies about the Black experience?
- Even though the men and woman are freed after proven innocent, do you believe they are truly free? Should they be given Mental Health benefits for being imprisoned for a crime they did not commit?
- What can you do to help spread awareness of this inequality?