“I took it as a personal responsibility to run towards his message,” said Michael B. Jordan about his new film “Just Mercy,” in which he plays Bryan Stevenson, the real-life lawyer who has spent his career advocating for prisoners on death row. Jordan, his co-stars, and director Destin Daniel Cretton screened and discussed the film on Sunday night, September 8, for an audience full of media and industry members at the DGA Theater in New York City. Watch part of that Q&A above.
“Just Mercy” focuses on a period early in Stevenson’s legal career when he defended Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx), who was wrongly convicted of and sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman in Alabama. “I was really embarrassed that I didn’t know that much about him. I didn’t know that much about his work,” Jordan admitted about learning the story of Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. “He’s dedicated 40 years of his life to fighting this cause,” so the actor/producer was compelled to use “the opportunities that I’ve been given to take that story to the masses.”
Foxx thinks audiences “will be moved by this incredible relationship between Bryan and Walter McMillian … It feels humanitarian. It feels like a human story.” And the Oscar winner hopes the film will cross racial boundaries too. He was glad that the film tested well when it was initially screened for a black audience, and even more gratified when it tested just as well with white audiences.
Brie Larson, who previously worked with director Cretton on both “Short Term 12” (2013) and “The Glass Castle” (2017), co-stars as Eva Ansley, who lends her support to Stevenson’s work at the EJI. “Filmmaking is a huge part of my activism,” Larson explained about what drew her to this movie. But as a white actor it was equally important to her to take a step back and avoid the pitfalls of “white savior” narratives.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to show my support and allyship than to do this role,” Larson added about playing “somebody who has dedicated their life to this type of work, and to also be the true, most basic definition of supporting character — to really just be there to support, to listen, and to be there for Michael … I am here to listen, I am here to do what you need, but no more than that.” Jordan’s production company made the film with an inclusion rider, which also gave everyone the opportunity to work on a diverse set with a wide array of experiences and perspectives represented.
“Just Mercy” had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on September 6. It’s scheduled to open on Christmas Day.
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