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Just Mercy, Film Review by Mariam Ashraf

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

Amicus will be publishing a series of reviews and comments on the way capital punishment is presented within the media. Covering books, films, peer-reviewed articles and mainstream news, our work will cover the whole spectrum of public exposure to this violent form of justice. We hope that this will provide some context to the work that we do and raise awareness of the inherent injustices that face ordinary people on death row as well as recommending some good books and films along the way. If you have any questions about the project, the content or about our work then please get in touch at

Just Mercy, Film Review by Mariam Ashraf

Moved by an encounter with an inmate facing capital punishment who reminds him of himself, promising Harvard graduate Bryan Stevenson moves to Alabama, and starts the Equal Justice Initiative to defend the rights of those facing the death penalty. With the support of local lawyer Eva Ansley, despite the racist, hostile and politically charged environment he is in, Bryan gets to work representing prisoners who have had poor or no legal representation. Among other inmates, Bryan meets Walter McMillian, a poor, black man who is awaiting the death penalty for the murder of an 18-year-old white girl, despite any evidence of his guilt. Walter’s conviction was built on the presumption of guilt from the minute he was arrested, evidence suppression, witness intimidation, the falsification of evidence, and overt racism. Just Mercy follows Bryan’s legal, political, and social fight for justice for Walter all the way to the Supreme Court of Alabama. We see Bryan work tirelessly, fighting a system that was built to work against people like Walter for years. We follow Walter’s journey from hopelessness and despair, to freedom and justice. In the end, we are reminded by Bryan and Walter that it is never too late for justice, as long as we have conviction in our hearts.

Based on a true story, Just Mercy is about fighting for what is right and never giving up. This was an emotional and at times difficult to watch tale of the American justice system for me. The movie humanized not only what prisoners experience, but what their families and communities go through as well. It was not only powerful, but also thought provoking. The movie is a reminder that while Walter’s story took place in 1987, some of the problems he faced in getting a fair trial still exist today. I was shocked to learn that for every 9 people who have been executed in the United States, 1 person on death row has been proven innocent and released. The work Amicus does is so important because even though it should not it matter, justice still may depend on factors like one’s race and socioeconomic status. Organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative and Amicus remind us that, in the words of Bryan, we cannot accept a system that treats people better for being rich and guilty than for being poor and innocent. I am inspired by the fact that to this day, Bryan Stevenson is working with his initiative and has won relief for over 140 inmates and counting. Just Mercy gives us a look into what it actually means to face capital punishment, and I look forward to fighting with Amicus to make a difference with a renewed conviction in my heart.

Key Quote: “We all need justice, we all need mercy, and we all need some measure of unmerited grace” - Bryan Stevenson

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