Just Mercy, starring Michael B. Jordan as a lawyer who defends a wrongly accused death-row inmate played by Jamie Foxx, is one of many films made available for free in response to the Black Lives Matter protests nationwide. In the latest Low Key podcast, Aaron Lanton, Keith Dennie and me talk about what the film gets right about racist policing, and what changes we’d like to see in real life.
The discussion of the movie leads to some comparisons of our own interactions with police. I’m white, and Keith and Aaron are black, and would you believe our experiences are vastly different? Note the extremely long silence when Keith asks me at the 34:13 mark in the podcast if a cop has ever walked up to me and asked for my ID for no reason.
You can listen on Spotify or by clicking on the arrow:
Just Mercy is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and also stars Brie Larson. It got good reviews but not lots of attention when it was released in December at the same time as another death-row drama, the excellent Clemency.
Cretton told MovieMaker back in December that Just Mercy was very accurate — because it had to be. The film is based on the memoir Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, the attorney played by Jordan in the film.
“We had to stick close to the facts, because Bryan Stevenson was working closely with us every step of the way and making sure that we were telling a story that would resonate not only with an audience, but would resonate with lawyers who are doing this type of work, that would resonate with people on death row who are going through this process, and would resonate with the clients and the people who are in this story, some of which are still alive, or their relatives are still alive,” Cretton said.
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He added that the film wanted to not only inspire people trying to repair the criminal justice system, but also educate people about how hard that is.
“Accuracy was definitely important so that when they watch this movie, people can understand what it really takes,” Cretton added. “This isn’t a made-up version of what it takes to prove somebody’s innocence. This is the long process that is in place right now in our system.”
Here are some highlights of the episode, with time stamps:
1:30: Is Texas still under quarantine? Was it ever?
2:30: Aaron describes a very overzealous description of a suspect
7:00: The inhuman task put on people fighting for justice, and how it relates to Bryan Stevenson.
11:07: “It’s like a horror film, almost.”
15:00: Could a false conviction like the one in Just Mercy still happen?
19:45: Why do white people — especially white people — want to believe authority figures?
24:00: It’s okay to say that police make mistakes.
24:50: “We also need to take into consideration that there are KKK members in police departments.”
27:00: A relevant Chris Rock joke.
29:00: “Why does one become a police officer?”
31:00: Thoughts about the war on drugs from Don Winslow’s Power of the Dog.
32:00: Why legalizing drugs and busted tail lights wouldn’t stop harassment.
35:30: Keith talks about getting harassed for standing outside.
37:20: Aaron talks about a weird traffic stop.
41:00: “What’s happening is what I want to see.”
48:30: That Tom Cotton editorial.
50:20: “Amplifying stuff that’s just wrong — is wrong.”