The cast of Just Mercy recently spoke with Shadow And Act Deputy Editor, Trey Mangum, about their excitement over the film's ability to start important conversations regarding America's criminal justice system.
As a whole, the cast discussed some of the statistics they learned from Equal Justice Initiative founder and attorney Bryan Stevenson. One such stat: one in every 10 men on death row is innocent, meaning that innocent people are being unjustly killed. On top of that, the act of killing inmates is questionable at best, as nothing about the act is restorative to the inmate or society at large.
"I was just ashamed I didn't know that," Tim Blake Nelson, who plays inmate Ralph Myers, said of the stat regarding death row inmates. "But the death penalty itself is our great hypocrisy because we murder people to try to say 'Don't murder.' It's incoherent."
"I think it just shines a light on what we already know," Jamie Foxx, who plays Stevenson's wrongfully convicted client Walter McMillan, said of the film. "If the system is skewed, and the sword falls on us most of the time, for whatever crime it is, when it gets to death row, that's an even heavier blow. To get rid of it does us service."
"Until we fix the system, how can we operate with those types of statistics?" said Michael B. Jordan, who plays Stevenson. "How can we put a value on an innocent life?"
"...A lot of the time [people are sent back to prison] just because they didn't make their appointments in time. Things like that are shocking to hear, but it puts it back into the context of 'What can I do?'" said Brie Larson, who plays Stevenson's ally Eva Ansley "I think the more you learn, then you can pair with how do I meet that need? And one of the cool things is his website, EJI.org, has a lot of those resources because we do get so many people asking 'I feel something, what can I do?' and I'm so grateful first of all that this film is allowing us to have conversations like this....and with that, it's just making some individual choices for ourselves as to what it is we can do to best support the world we want to live in."
When it comes to playing real-life characters, both Rob Morgan and Karan Kendrick specifically said that they held no qualms about bringing the stories of their real-life counterparts to life.
"It was no hesitation for me. I actually felt more honored that somebody would trust me with bringing to life an actual person," said Morgan, who plays inmate Herbert Richardson. "Then I approached it in a way that, I just wanted to be a real human being in front of the camera...I just wanted to be as present and real and honest as I possibly can."
"I was excited to share the life of a woman from the rural south in 1980," said Kendrick, who plays Walter's wife Minnie McMillan. "For me, she represented the women I knew growing up--my mother, my grandmothers and the women in my community, who understand the power in choosing love and choosing to journey with someone and choosing to step over what you may be afraid of or frustrated about or disappointed in and loving anyway. And to share that life on camera? No hesitation."
Just Mercy is out in select theaters on Christmas Day and out nationwide in January.
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