“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela.” I didn’t say that. Desmond Tutu said that, and I am inclined to believe him because Stevenson is a Harvard lawyer who passed up big-money opportunities to go to Alabama to start and run the Equal Justice Initiative. He has to be a goddamn saint because Alabama is a state where the controlling party backed Roy Moore and where they voted in 2019 to expel a member of Congress, Ilhan Omar, because she’s Muslim. Tackling racial injustice in Alabama is like trying to tear down a skyscraper with a screwdriver. But Stevenson has been plugging away for three decades now, and in that time, he has been instrumental in ensuring that the Supreme Court ruled that people under the age of 18 not be given the death penalty. Moreover, as of 2016, the Equal Justice Initiative has saved 125 men from the death penalty. One hundred and twenty-five.
And he does that from Alabama.
Stevenson also wrote a book about his experiences working in Alabama called Just Mercy, which was adapted by Andrew Lanham and Destin Daniel Cretton into a movie also directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. For those of you unfamiliar with Cretton, he also directed Short Term 12, the movie that helped to launch Brie Larson’s career. I don’t know if we’re going to do a Best Films of the 2010s at the end of the year, but if we do, Short Term 12 deserves a place in the top ten. It’s magnificent, and it’s still on Netflix.
Meanwhile, Larson returns here for Just Mercy in a supporting role, as an assistant to Michael B. Jordan’s Stevenson, who is working to get an inmate, played by Jamie Foxx, off of death row. We’ll have a review of this soon, I think, because it’s playing at TIFF this weekend, and we have a phenomenal team heading out there now.
In the meantime, here’s the trailer for Just Mercy, which opens in December and yes, it will almost certainly generate awards attention. It should be a great antidote to last year’s Oscar winner Green Book.
Header Image Source: Warner Brothers