Just Mercy tells the real-life story of Bryan Stevenson and his work to free wrongly-convicted black men

June 02, 2020 01:12 PM
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JUST MERCY
Credit: JAKE GILES NETTER

Warner Bros. is giving people a tool to learn more about "systemic racism."

The studio is offering free rentals of last year's drama Just Mercy, which follows the life of human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan in the movie, is a lawyer who for the past 31 years has worked tirelessly toward freeing wrongfully convicted inmates from death row and reforming the criminal justice system in America.

“We believe in the power of story,” a statement from the movie's Twitter account read. “Our film ‘Just Mercy,’ based on the life work of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, is one resource we can humbly offer to those who are interested in learning more about the systemic racism that plagues our society. For the month of June, ‘Just Mercy’ will be available to rent for free across digital platforms in the US.

“To actively be part of the change our country is so desperately seeking, we encourage you to learn more about our past and the countless injustices that have led us to where we are today,” the statement continued. “Thank you to the artists, storytellers and advocates who helped make this film happen. Watch with your family, friends and allies. For further information on Bryan Stevenson and his work at the Equal Justice Initiative please visit EJI.org.”

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The drama recounts the harrowing true story of how Stevenson worked to free Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx), a wrongfully convicted woodcutter from Alabama who was sentenced to death in 1988 for the murder of an 18-year-old white woman. He was found guilty despite six black witnesses who testified he was at a fish fry at the time of the murder. Many years later, after proving that the prosecution’s star witness had lied about McMillian on the stand, the lawyer had his conviction finally overturned in 1993, and he was cleared of all charges. McMillian later died in 2013.

Stevenson's bestselling 2014 memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is the basis for the inspirational film. The Harvard-educated lawyer spoke to PEOPLE earlier this year about his work.

“We’re in this era of over-incarceration, where one in three black male babies born in this country is expected to go to jail or prison,” Stevenson, 60, told PEOPLE.

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Stevenson’s parents, Howard, a lab tech, and Alice, a bookkeeper, instilled in him a deep belief in education.

“I’d never met a lawyer until I got to Harvard Law School,” he says. “But I never doubted I could be one.”

Now Stevenson works at the nonprofit, Equal Justice Initiative, he founded in 1989, a human rights organization that provides legal services to people who have been wrongfully convicted or unfairly sentenced. Stevenson and his team’s work has resulted in reversals for more than 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

•Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

•National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.