The Connecticut Collaborative on Poverty, Criminal Justice, and Race hosted a virtual discussion of the 2019 film “Just Mercy” Tuesday on Zoom, focusing on the importance of criminal justice reform.
“Just Mercy” tells the true life story of Harvard Law graduate Bryan Stevenson who moved to Alabama to start the non-profit organization Equal Justice Initiative to help inmates who have been unjustly sentenced to death.
The virtual discussion is a part of a series called “One State, One Film” that will host monthly discussion on films that highlight social and structural inequalities. The conversation was hosted by Nyesha McCauley, senior director of communications at Everyday Democracy. McCauley was joined by three other panelists.
One of the guest panelists was two-time WNBA champion and activist Renee Montgomery. Montgomery made headlines earlier this year when she announced that she was sitting out the 2020 WNBA season to focus on civil rights activism.
“‘Just Mercy’ is a movie but it’s a movie that covers a lot of people,” Montgomery said. “I understand that I have a voice and I’m just going to try to use my power to use it.”
“I understand that I have a voice and I’m just going to try to use my power to use it.”
Another one of the panelists was James Jeter, an alum of the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education. Jeter served only 20 years of a 30 year sentence in prison thanks to sentencing reforms that granted parole hearings to those who were serving long sentences from crimes committed as juveniles.
“One of the reasons why we put out this film and pick up a lot of this work outside of our legal work is to get creative with consciousness about these challenges,” Jonathan Kubakundimana, Equal Justice Initiative program manager, said. He helped with the production of “Just Mercy.”
The film was released on Dec. 25, 2019 to critical acclaim and earned $50 million worldwide. While the film didn’t receive awards recognition from the Academy Awards or The Golden Globes, it received more recognition when it was released on all streaming platforms for free throughout the month of June.
Warner Brothers, the studio that produced the film, released “Just Mercy” for free at the height of the protests over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
“Our film ‘Just Mercy,’ based on the life work of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, is one resource we can humbly offer to those who are interested in learning more about the systematic racism that plagues our society,” Warner Brothers posted on their Twitter account.
The virtual event ended by taking a few questions from those watching. Kubakundimana was then given the opportunity to have the closing words.
“I encourage people to get approximate, I encourage people to change the narrative, I encourage people to do uncomfortable things,” said Kubakundimana. “We’re never going to make a change if we stay in these comfortable spaces.”
“We’re never going to make a change if we stay in these comfortable spaces.”
The next discussion will be held on Oct. 27 with a discussion of the film “Let the People Decide.”