Just Mercy was a must see movie at HIFF this past year. Not only did it incase some of the brightest stars of Black Hollywood, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, but it shed light on the political hot topic of capital punishment. Directed by Hawaii’s own Destin Daniel Cretton, the film follows Bryan Stevenson after he graduates from Harvard Law and his journey to make a difference in criminal justice reform. He stands particularly for the underrepresented men on death row and makes strides to get their cases off the execution chopping block.
Through Bryan, we are introduced to his first case, Walter Mcmillian, who is sentenced to death for the murder of 18 year old White girl of Alabama. Although he has maintained his innocence, the sociopolitical judgements amongst a prejudice community has kept him wrongfully convicted. Throughout the film we see how racism is reflected onto our protagonist, Bryan, as he proceeds to ruffle quite a few feathers to get a rightful appel for Mcmillian, whose life and story is based on true events.
While watching this film, not only did I feel the warmth of passion, anger, and love amongst the Black community in Alabama Walter Mcmillian represents. The themes of oppression follow not only through his story, but also through Bryan’s as he works to uncover and expose the truth behind the District Attorney’s office in Alabama. Some scenes that stuck out the most to me were the opening exposition when he drives past what looks like abandoned plantations that are juxtaposed with police cars followed by racial harassment. The two represent how the new Jim Crow has taken over the south and affected much of Black America. There are many times that Bryan is clearly disrespected as a Black Lawyer, like when he first went to visit his client and was subjected to an illegal strip search. The violation was clearly to remind him of who he was to his core: A Black man. No matter what fancy college he attended or how many books of law he studied, he would always be A Black man. This is a fact we see him struggle to come to terms with. Revelations of these ways of thought are best reflected through the use of sound and silence during emotional moments and that of decision reveals.
In terms of Dadaism, this feature film was created similarly in disgust to the failures of the American justice system. It exists to point out the corruption behind the many wrongful convictions that are ultimately sentenced to death. Walter is not the only true story that is told from death row. Many of the other inmates were sentenced to death without a fair trial or access to suitable representation. There is a social imbalance of gross wrongful conviction that is a direct result of racially charged absurdity in cases that lack substantial physical evidence that in turn effect irrational sentencing and false witness testimonies. Although Dadaism is a philosophical movement of the past, it is relevant to Just Mercy and the new social order in which films are created to challenge the system and positively deal with the natural human irrationality.
Overall, I was really impressed with the dramatic performances by the cast and the ability of Destin Daniel Cretton to produce a soulful story without direct roots to the subject matter and creating a successful Black story without exploiting the people it focuses on. As a whole, Just Mercy is just beautiful, and now in theates if you haven’t gotten the chance to see it.