In these challenging and uncertain times it is important now more than ever that people learn, listen and grow. Recent events have highlighted the need for everyone to do better; to examine and disrupt the beliefs, policies and structures that have brought us down this road we currently find ourselves in today as a society. As protests continue across the country, amid unrest over the death of George Floyd and police brutality, black filmmakers are doing their part to help raise awareness about historic injustices and systemic racism.

On Friday, May 29, director Ava DuVernay and Paramount Pictures announced that her award-winning 2014 film, Selma, would be available for free online rental throughout the month of June. You can also check out and/or place a hold on the DVD or Blu-ray here at our library. Selma tells the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1960s.

On Tuesday, June 2, The Warner Brothers Company announced that Just Mercy, like Selma, would be available for free online rental throughout the month of June. The reasoning behind this decision was to promote education about racism and injustices within the legal system. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, this 2019 film based on a true story, stars Jamie Foxx as wrongfully convicted death row inmate Walter McMillian and Michael B. Jordan portraying defense attorney Bryan Stevenson as they fight for justice in an unbalanced justice system.

Bryan Stevenson is a young lawyer who is dedicated to defending those who are the most desperate and most in need; this includes the poor, the wrongly condemned, as well as the women and children that are trapped in the farthest reaches of the criminal justice system. He does this by founding a legal practice, the Equal Justice Initiative. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, a man who has been sentenced to death and is on death row for a notorious murder he insists he didn’t commit and is completely innocent of. Due to Bryan taking on this controversial and very polarizing case, he finds himself entangled in a web of conspiracy, political machination and legal peril that pushes him to the edge. And it’s because of this that Bryan truly begins to understand the extent of what justice and mercy really are.

I found Just Mercy to be a very poignant and powerful movie. I felt for the characters as they experienced challenges and disappointments along the way; their anger, their frustration. I also cheered them on as they were able to rise above those challenges, making maneuvers to level the playing field, and, ultimately, receive the fairness and justice they so rightly deserved all along. Jaime Foxx did a great job in portraying the role of Walter McMillian. He did a masterful job of showing the transformation of Walter being a man who has pretty much lost and given up all hope and is completely skeptical that an idealistic Bryan Stevenson can really change things and help him; to becoming the man who sees the young lawyer at work, who will stop at nothing to see Walter get the justice he deserves and knowing that Bryan truly does care about him. But as good as Foxx was, the true standout to me was Michael B. Jordan. He was an absolute marvel in the role. Channeling so much range and raw emotion in the character, showing his transition from being a driven but idealistic individual to someone coming of age who completely understood the extent and the depth of what justice and mercy truly mean. I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

For those people that would like to go even further, they can check out Bryan Stevenson’s memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. The book has received numerous accolades, including being named one of the most influential books of the decade by CNN and one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, Esquire and Time Magazine. It is also the winner of the Carnegie Medal of Excellence in Nonfiction, the winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction and the winner of a Books for a Better Life Award.

We have Just Mercy on DVD, Blu-ray, book, eBook and eAudiobook, so be sure to check it out today.

To see Bryan Stevenson’s ongoing work, visit the Equal Justice Initiative’s website at eji.org.

For more books and movies about race, racism and anti-racism, read our other blog posts: