Just Mercy is the one to see this week. This true story stuns on many levels as it delivers the tale of a young black lawyer who becomes deeply involved in helping a black man unjustly accused of murder.
At 18, Rhonda Morrison has been shot while walking. She was white. Police listen to a white prisoner who accuses a black man of the murder. The immediate and total acceptance of the accusation is what stuns us. A white participant is believed. A black suspect is called a liar. Both a white court judge and a white witness announce that justice has been served. The suspect will die in the electric chair.
In this true story, Michael Jordan plays Bryan, the new young graduate of Harvard Law School whose deep drive is to protect innocents. He meets Jamie Foxx (Walter Mcmillian), a young black man who shares both his Harvard background and a past of singing in the choir. When Jamie is arrested and sentenced to death in Georgia, Bryan, certain of his friend’s innocence, rushes to help him. Bryan’s assistant, Brie Larson (Eva Ansley) works to help people on death row. They become partners in trying to free the innocent Jamie. That drive from Alabama to Georgia is a stunning lesson in the southern culture.
Several movies on this subject this year have been delivered by fine actors and filmmakers. The message: state sanctioned murder of black suspects is still active. Acceptance of white hatred still thrives. The theme in the black culture: “You’re guilty from the moment you’re born.”
During Jamie’s trial we are given a sharp course in the white supremacy attitudes that we so many think is over. The white judge summons white racists to testify, the courtroom spectators enjoy the spectacle, the judge takes a month to make a decision we know he has already made. Their words and actions sting.
Be sure to stay through the final credits that are interlaced with the true story. The two men remained friends. One of every nine men on death row has been proven innocent. Lawyer Bryan Stevenson has continued to work for them.
While watching the movie, I sat near a young black woman who had brought her grandmother. All of us were obviously moved by the film and I asked her if she saw it as an exaggeration. “No, not at all.” Hers was a quiet, strong confirmation that movies that expose this deep cultural problem can, when done well, become the best weaponry in highlighting the separation that has endured.
The treatment of black men – whether innocent or guilty – in this modern era is once again a surprise to so many who think all is well. This fine film delivers learning without lecture. Movies, made with honesty, can at least spread the truth of what black people are still living with across our country where many thought the job had been done. It hasn’t been done.
Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Just Mercy
Word Count : 492
Running Time: 2:16
Rating : PG-13
Date : February 2, 2020