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Hope in the face of injustice

Be ready for a hard but ultimately important movie to watch for the last Reel Mondays screening on April 4.
3003 mercy sup CC
Harvard grad Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan-L) is in the lion's den. In Alabama, he sets up a legal aid practice and tries to help Walter "Johnny D." McMillian (Jamie Foxx-R) prove his innocence. WARNER BROS/Supplied

REVIEW

Just Mercy

Stars: 4.5

Starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, and Brie Larson

Written by Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton 

Rated: PG for coarse language (including racial epithets), smoking and substance use, and violence

Runtime: 137 minutes

Screening is the last in the Spring 2022 run of Reel Mondays

Showtime is 7 p.m. on Monday, April 4 at the Arden Theatre

*Please visit the Arden Theatre's website to prepare yourself for COVID-19 protocols: stalbert.ca/exp/arden

Tickets can be purchased online for $15 each (plus Eventbrite fees) at sapl.libcal.com/event/3647607. All proceeds benefit STARFest — St. Albert Readers’ Festival. Visit friendsofsapl.ca/reel-monday for more information. 

Contact [email protected] or visit the library's customer service desk if you need assistance with purchasing your tickets, or if you have other questions. As this is a Friends fundraiser, there will be no refunds for unused tickets. Tickets can be purchased online until just before the movie begins, but will not be available in-person at the door before the movie.

The Spring 2022 series of Reel Mondays will end on a very dramatic note with its last screening. Just Mercy is a slow, long haul of a movie, very serious in its story and its telling. It’s a film about institutionalized racism. In case you thought the American civil rights movement did away with lynching and segregation forever, this film is here to show you a black man can still be killed by prejudice.

Walter "Johnny D." McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx) is arrested for a heinous crime but it’s one he simply did not commit: the murder of a young white woman. His sentence takes him to death row where he languishes in the wake of a sham trial with an inept lawyer. There is no hard evidence against him, only the ridiculous testimony of another criminal. In fact, McMillian was at a church event, which was corroborated by multiple people in his community, not the least of whom was a police officer. None of their statements were taken into account.

Enter Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a young Harvard graduate who sees Alabama’s death row inmates as the best place for him to offer his ample talents and help the most people who need that help the most. He sets up a legal aid centre called Equal Justice Initiative in the capital of Montgomery, a two-hour drive away. He immediately takes on several clients, one of which is McMillian.

But this is not your simple legal-eagle kind of drama, mostly because this is in Alabama. According to the film and Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, some of his black clients were arrested simply because they looked like someone who could kill. During his pursuit of justice for his clients, Stevenson himself was subjected to violent harassment by the police and other agents of the legal system. It’s horrendous to watch and deeply upsetting.

The fact that this based-on-a-true-story film is set in Monroeville — the home of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, we are repeatedly told — only hints at the most bitter of ironies.

This is a powerful film but one that is incredibly hard to watch at times. It will likely be difficult for the black members of the audience, and it sure as hell better be difficult for the white ones, too. Systemic racism such as this means the mechanisms of justice are broken, turning the law into a player’s game of whomever has the power gets to do whatever they want. Lawlessness at the hands of those who are tasked to uphold it is more than a travesty: it’s an outrage.

And just in case you thought, "well, that’s just Alabama," then think again. It’s time to learn more about Saulteaux sisters Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance who were convicted of second-degree murder in 1994 in Saskatchewan. Despite maintaining their innocence throughout, they received life sentences. Their younger cousin later confessed and received a two-year sentence, but the sisters remain jailed after 28 years, lest we forget about Colten Boushie.

In the film, Stevenson says, “hopelessness is the enemy of justice and justice prevails where hopelessness persists.” He prevailed because his knowledge of the law carried a beacon fire of hope about real justice. It’s inspiring to be sure, but comes with the knowledge that more than half of the states in America still have the death penalty, and that for every nine people who have been executed in the U.S., one person on death row has been exonerated and released.

“A shocking rate of error,” the film tells us, making us wonder if the word "error" is really appropriate.


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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