Black Panther star Michael B. Jordan on Saturday said his starring role alongside Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy aims to call attention to the plight of the wrongly condemned in the U.S. prison system, many of whom are African-American and on death row.
“I felt a huge responsibility to run toward this issue, toward this story, to do whatever I could to use my platform to get the story out to the masses,” Jordan told a press conference at the Toronto Film Festival, where Just Mercy is having its world premiere.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s film, which also stars Brie Larson, is based on a book by civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson. The film follows Stevenson, played by Jordan, as he goes to Alabama to defend the disenfranchised and unjustly convicted, including Walter McMillian (Foxx), a man sentenced to death despite evidence proving his innocence.
Stevenson, who was also at the Toronto presser, said he wrote his book after concluding U.S. courts will not on their own bring justice to the wrongly condemned, and that allowing a star-studded Hollywood movie to tell his story may become a call to action for the American people.
“I don’t think our courts would do anything today so disruptive on behalf of poor people, because the larger environment has become so tolerant of inequality. We’ve accepted so much bigotry and injustice,” he said. “Getting a story out there that gets people to understand this is not just data, but these are human tragedies and suffering, this is cruel, this is abusive, became a priority for me,” Stevenson said.
For Foxx, the issue of mass incarceration is personal, after his stepfather was imprisoned for seven years in Texas for illegal substance possession. The Oscar winner said another injustice of the U.S. prison system is that it has become big business.
“The more [people] they put in jail, the more money they make. But they don’t understand what they do to families,” Foxx said.
Stevenson said Just Mercy will hopefully bring the wrongly condemned to mainstream media, so people can get closer to the issue and accept change. “We cannot change the world, we cannot increase justice if we stay in safe places that are distant. We’re going to get it wrong,” he said.