Recently, the Sentinel attended the Los Angeles screening of Just Mercy, the critically acclaimed film detailing the raw truths and stark biases found in America’s criminal justice system. Starring Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan and Oscar award-winning actor Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy trails the journey of Bryan Stevenson (Jordan), a young Black lawyer and Harvard graduate who makes it his life’s mission to vindicate the wrongfully accused and underrepresented and Walter McMillan (Foxx), a Black man from Alabama, who in 1987, was wrongfully convicted for the notorious murder of an 18-year old girl.
Held at the Cinemark Theater in Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw, the star-studded and action-packed event also included appearances from co-stars Karan Kendrick, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Brie Larson, along with special appearances from actors Morris Chestnut and Elise Neal. Laker legend, Kobe Bryant and emcee extraordinaire, Terrence J also made a grand entrance, serving as the night’s hosts.
In the film, you’ll find that Stevenson and McMillan initially present many polarities, but when their worlds collide, the pair find an unorthodox and sometimes inhumane ways that their plight as Black men and desire for justice is the same.
Jordan, also known for starring in “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” says the film fits a trajectory that forces communities of color to take ownership of their narrative and use it to embrace change. Jordan says for so long, people of color have felt intimidated, paralyzed and stuck when they speak up for justice and don’t see results. “I feel like Bryan Stevenson’s message, who he is, is fighting for the things that we care about, the things that we’re actively fighting for all the time on social media,” Jordan said.
Jordan says that “through solidarity, through community, demanding answers from broken systems and identifying leaders like Bryan Stevenson,” people of color are in better position to overcome cyclical trauma. “There’s a lot of things that need to happen in order to overcome hundreds and hundreds of years of systemic oppression. We’re in the infancy stages of that, so we’ll see what happens,” Jordan proclaimed.
Bryan Stevenson also agrees with this sentiment, declaring that justice must be met with a higher level of reckoning and accountability in communities of color. “We’re going to have to do something about access to justice,” Stevenson said. “We have a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent and that has to change,” he continued.
Stevenson says we must “commit to telling the truth about our history of racial inequality” and that not doing so has “created the smog in the air we’re breathing in.” “We’ve not really talked about the legacy of slavery and its impact on our nation. We haven’t talked about the terrorism and lynching that brought Black people to communities like LA and Oakland. We haven’t really dealt with the presumption of dangerousness and guilt that gets assigned to Black people.”
Foxx, who’s committed a lifetime to creating art that speaks truth, such as in the films “Ray” and “Django Unchained”, says “’Just Mercy’ and Bryan Stevenson is so important because it’s real.”
“It’s not fictitious, it’s not a social media campaign; Michael B. Jordan, what he did in ‘Fruitvale Station’ was amazing because that narrative touched us, then he takes that same narrative into ‘Black Panther’ on a bigger stage. He could have done any movie that he wanted to do, instead he did something that was important to us,” Foxx said.
Foxx also encouraged audiences not to get “fatigued” when it comes to the fight for justice.
“Come see this wonderful film, be entertained by it. There are some incredible performances and afterwards, it’s going to make you feel a certain kind of way, you’re going to want to get up and do your thing,” he stated.
Actress Karan Kendrick stars as wife Minnie McMillan in the film and says that in America, “we have somehow normalized the trauma of Black and Brown people” and her goal was to bring the depth of that trauma to the forefront.
“Minnie McMillan is still with us and I thought well, she’ll see this, and what do I want her to feel? For me it was about her feeling seen, and heard and understood and not marginalized, not judged for the choices that she was making; and hopefully embraced as a human being, not as a strong Black woman,” Kendrick said.
“That’s a part of who she is, but as a person she’s had to endure this trauma for herself, for her husband and for her family. Minnie McMillan has every reason to walk away but she chooses to stand,” Kendrick continued.
The Sentinel also caught up with O’Shea Jackson Jr., who portrays a unique role in the film, bound to a jail cell while serving a 30-year sentence on death row. Jackson’s Jr.’s character lends to the attitude of hope, finding solace in a place not intended for freedom, truth or redemption.
When asked what advice he would offer to young men of color who’ve experienced generational cycles of oppression, Jackson Jr. said simply, to strengthen the mind. “You have to build your knowledge and have a better understanding of things, or you’ll just go into the world blindly. You can’t always go off emotion,” he said.
“The heart can’t get what it wants all the time. If the heart had a good idea, it’d be called the brain,” he uttered jokingly. “You have to look before you leap a little bit and you have to make sure you’re educated on the rules of the game because you won’t even know when you’re losing,” Jackson Jr. concluded.
Just Mercy is set to hit theatres nationwide on January 10, 2020. For exclusive interviews with the cast and crew, visit www.lasentinel.net.