Will You Tell The Stories Of The Wrongfully Condemned?

Just Mercy is directed by Destin Cretton and written by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a lawyer and human rights activist who devotes his efforts towards assisting the impoverished, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

This movie is technically an autobiography as it is about the origins of Stevenson’s career and the Equal Justice Initiative. The film follows his struggles and achievements from 1988 to 1993, with a focus on the Walter McMillan case.

This film portrays Stevenson’s career and the African American community in Monroeville, Alabama, in great detail. It depicts the distress and despair that is prevalent amongst African American communities and the struggles that Stevenson and his team endured achieving the exoneration of wrongly convicted prisoners.

The movie begins with Stevenson making claims and promises of exonerating the inmates. But they had heard attorneys over and over again making empty promises. Meanwhile, the whole system was created with the objective of black oppression. Walter McMillan was one inmate who’d been sentenced to death for the murder of a young white female. McMillan was one of many prisoners who severely lacked hope. Now don’t be mistaken; the disheartened attitude of McMillan and the other inmates was not unique because of their imminent deaths. But because of a reoccurring theme throughout their lives. African Americans lost hope in the government long, long ago. 

The disappointment in the criminal justice system has become routine for African Americans. In the south, after the 13th Amendment, black people were like the little sibling who you’re forced to play video games with, they aren’t wanted, but you have no choice. 

The lack of faith in the criminal justice system results from the gross abuse of power by policemen. The forgery of evidence by prosecutors. And the disproportionate number of fatal condemnations by the justice system. Each of these were, and still are, present throughout the United States. How could you ever live your life without despair if, one day, you could be arrested and sentenced to death for a crime you didn’t commit, with no hope of being free. 

This isn’t the only time, and it wasn’t the last time that an incident like this occurred. The only reason that we know about this case is because Stevenson took the time to review McMillan’s situation. Think about all the people that Stevenson couldn’t reach or wasn’t aware of. 

The Central Park Five case, depicted in the miniseries What They See in Us, is another example. It is the story of the wrongful condemnation of five innocent black boys. Boys, not men. Hardly even teenagers. Punished for crimes they didn’t commit with evidence that didn’t exist. And once again, this is just one that we know of, leaving many stories left untold. 

It is the realization of these forgotten stories that instill despair within African Americans. 

It’s the forgotten stories that Stevenson is focused on. He began his career to prevent people’s stories from going untold. Which led Stevenson to start the Equal Justice Initiative, or the E.J.I., while he was down in Alabama. The goal of the E.J.I. is to provide support and legal aid to those who have been wronged. So far, the Equal Justice Initiative has won relief, reversals, or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.

This is just the beginning, and there are hundreds more that need to be avenged. And this is why I want to follow in Bryan Stevenson’s footsteps in becoming a civil rights attorney. I want to focus on destroying the oppression of African Americans. The hundreds of wrongfully condemned that sit in prison, hopeless, need to be free. Every time a wrongfully convicted prisoner is put to death, their story goes into the ground with them. This is not acceptable. We need to take action now. 

Their stories must be told. Will you help?

Go to Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative and see how you can help.

More information on Just Mercy can be found here.

The Central Park Five story, What They See In Us, can be found here.


What To Watch Over Christmas Break

When They See Us – Netflix

While this isn’t as much a movie as it is a mini-series, it is, by far, the best series on Netflix. The series is split into 3 episodes and covers the story of the Central Park 5. The Central Park 5 case took place in Central Park in New York City If you’re like me and you’re a gen z, you probably didn’t know the significance of this case. I remember watching this series, and I was mentally impacted by watching the way that these young black men were treated. I was literally angry walking around my house, I felt a fire burning in my gut. And I know most won’t feel the same way as me, because, while I strongly believe in the equal treatment of all minorities, my passion for Black rights, burns stronger than no other. And I hope even if you don’t feel that fire building up within, you will leave the mini-series with more of an understanding of what African Americans have experienced, currently experience, and will experience here in the United States. Now it also essential to remember that what the Central Park 5 went through wasn’t the first and wasn’t the last. The 5 were lucky, in that their names were eventually cleared. There are African Americans who are wrongly accused and, unfortunately, never given a chance to clear their names. I would also like to note that I haven’t put these movies/mini-series in ranking order. Still, this series is definitely my favorite, so I highly suggest you watch it.

Harriet — On-Demand/Theaters

This movie was just in theaters, so I’m not sure if you’ll be able to find it anywhere, maybe somewhere on-demand. However, this movie was excellent in most areas and lacking in others. I thought that the film summarized Harriet Tubman’s childhood, her journeys to free slaves, and her adult life quite well. Though I felt that the movie lacked detail, it was like reading the description on the back of a book. I understand the darker details were kept out to make it appealing to a broader audience. But I feel it does Tubman a disservice by “censoring” the reality of the adversities she endured on her trips freeing the slaves. I also think it was a mistake in casting Cynthia Erivo as Harriet because Erivo is African British, not African American. Just make myself clear I think Cynthia did an excellent job playing Tubman. But being Black in the United States is different than being in Black in Britain, just the same as it is different than being black in African countries. And in the United States, historically and present, Black people are consistently passed over for interviews, jobs, and opportunities, etc. So, when a movie about a prominent figure in Black History releases, I think it is of utmost disrespect to cast someone whose culture has no relation. The critiques aside, however, I think this film is an excellent overview of Harriet Tubman’s life and offers a strong foundation for beginning to understand Black History.

American Son — Netflix

American Son was first a play in theatres and eventually made its way to Netflix. This was one of those movies, like When They See Us, that struck anger within me. The film takes place in one scene, which allowed for the movie to really showcase the dialogue. There are minimum characters, approximately 4 or 5, which, again, helps to make the conversation stand out more. This film takes place in a police station with a mother who was called to the station late at night about her son. But the mother is given no details over the phone and when she arrives at the station the one officer refuses to tell her anything more until his boss comes. When you watch this, it is crucial to pay particular attention to how the white husband, the white cop, the black mom, and the black cop treat each other differently. Note, however, it is not just about race, look for when the boss shows up and how he sides with the other cop regardless of race. This shows there is a sense of brotherhood in law enforcement that bypasses race. This is a movie that I could relate to being black while growing up around majority white people (you’ll understand after you watch). The film also does an excellent job of showing how new racism works. There are points where the racism is apparent, but most often the racism is “hidden” in slights and remarks. I remember two questions the cop asked the mom, “Is he in a gang,” and “Does he have any street names?” These don’t explicitly mention race at all, but they assume that since the son is black, that he might be in a gang, or he might have a street name, whatever that may mean. These questions are what are known as microaggressions because they prejudge based on race without actually mentioning race. If you haven’t seen the play, I recommend watching it, and even if you have seen the play, I still recommend it.

Green Book — On-Demand

This movie is an all-time personal favorite because of the complexity of the issues that it goes into it. Green Book is a true story about Dr. Don Shirley, a well-renowned pianist who is about to embark on a musical tour into the deep south. So, he needs a driver/bodyguard, and he finds Tony Vallelonga, a white, middle-class father who bounces between jobs. The movie starts with the two of them beginning their journey, with merely tolerating each other, however as the trip progresses, they quickly become good friends. And Vallelonga becomes protective of Dr. Shirley, which confuses the white people of the south. Since Vallelonga is driving a Black man around, he is treated as unequal, just as Dr. Shirley is. And from the wrongful treatment, Vallelonga’s perspective opens up. He begins to see just how hard it is to be Black in the United States. In one scene, Vallelonga tells Dr. Shirley that he can stand up for himself and that he shouldn’t let people push him around just because he is Black. Dr. Shirley responds by telling him that if he fought back, it would get him nowhere. This is especially true in his position because low-class black people look at him and don’t accept him. They assume he thinks he is better than other Black people. And the White people just look at him like he’s another Black person, which puts him in a complicated situation, leaving him lonely and outcasted. This is the complexity which I mentioned, the dialogue didn’t end at “I can’t because I’m Black,” I went further it dug into how his own people don’t even accept him. And frankly, this still happens in today’s society, Black people need to unite and diminish the injustice between us before we can fight institutionally enforced racism. Green Book is full of racism, struggle, laughter, and friendship, each together makes for an excellent film.

Malcolm X — Netflix

I have recently been researching about Malcolm X’s life and what he believed in, and I came upon this movie on Netflix. The film is a biography of Malcolm X. It covers most of his life in explicit detail, while simultaneously grabbing your attention. If you are like me and didn’t know much about him other than the five-sentence chapter you read in high school, then you probably consider Malcolm an extremist. And while at the beginning of his civil rights activist career, he was a bit more aggressive in that he told Black people that they should always have guns. This, however, is no different than what the NRA does or any other gun rights activists. But once Malcolm realized that he needed to unite all the African American community, he began to settle down. Yet, he is still made out to be an extremist and an advocate for violence. Watching this movie will open up your eyes to who Malcolm X really was. He believed that we could never be treated equally by the nation if Black people couldn’t treat each other equally. Malcolm routinely said that Black people need to go back to Africa. And what he meant by that is that we, as African Americans, do not have our own identity. The African diaspora essentially stole our identity and our culture away from us. Malcolm mentions that if you go to a Korean neighborhood, you don’t see Black restaurants, if you go to a Chinese neighborhood you don’t see Black restaurants, if you go to a Jewish neighborhood you don’t see Black resturants, but the second you step into a Black neighborhood you see every kind of restaurant. The racist history of the United States diluted African American culture with the White culture so much that we are hardly African anymore. I genuinely agree with Malcolm X that we do need to “go back to Africa.” And while this movie was a bit long just over three hours, it was well worth the watch.