I usually don’t care to watch the more “mainstream” films during HIFF, but Just Mercy did not disappoint at all. In fact, it was rather inspiring. This movie is based on the true story of a black man named Walter McMillian who was wrongfully convicted and put on death row for the murder of a white girl in 1970s Alabama and the lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who helped set him free. Don’t get me wrong, there are still frustrations about our country’s justice system that are very much relevant in the film, but it made me feel good to know that there are people strong enough to get through fighting a system that only wants to watch them lose.
As a black person who’s lived a lot my life in the south, the story of innocent black people being framed for crimes by racist white people is nothing new. I was actually a little hesitant about whether or not I wanted to watch the movie, because it can be very depressing hearing stories like this so often. However, this movie put me through a range of emotions. I felt sad, angry, and frustrated. I even cried. But, I think the most important emotion this movie made me feel, is hopeful.
In a digital age where it feels nearly impossible to escape the harsh reality of the world, it can be hard to be hopeful. I get online everyday and constantly see stories about innocent black people being killed by police, the people meant to protect us. I see stories about women disappearing. I see stories about the government betraying its people (and not just here in America). It can be really frustrating seeing these things happening everyday and feeling like people don’t care enough to actually make a change. Especially when these people look like you. It can be scary, thinking you could be next. So, when you’re constantly reminded of these tragedies in your daily life, the last thing you want to do is watch a movie about it. But the way this movie was directed, along with the amazing acting, was done in a way that didn’t have me leaving the theater with a heavy heart, which I was sort of expecting.
While this movie really focused on the story of Walter McMillian, it also introduced the bigger topic of people wrongfully being put on death row. I do think that this issue has a larger impact on people of color, especially in the south, but Just Mercy also showed that this issue expands beyond the racial demographic. There are some people in the world who don’t care about problems that don’t directly affect them. I think this mindset is why so many people get away with corrupt actions. But, this movie really put into perspective the weight of this problem. (Spoiler alert) One scene showed an innocent veteran being put in the electric chair. I had to close my eyes. It’s crazy to really sit and think about the fact that hundreds of people spend years in prison and are then killed for a crime they didn’t commit. If that doesn’t make you want reform in our justice system, I don’t know what will.
It’s hard to question someone accused of a heinous crime when you don’t know them personally, when the only information you get on their character is what the news decides to tell you about them. This movie definitely shows that there is always more than one side to the story. It’s made me hopeful that more people will stand up to injustices, even if just on a small-scale in their daily life. Wrongful death-row convictions is honestly something I never thought about before watching this movie, but I think it’s something we as a nation should give more consideration to. I consider myself to be an open-minded person, but this movie has definitely helped me think more openly about the rights of people convicted of crimes, and I think it has the potential to open a lot of people’s minds to this as well.