On Friday, September 20, Bryan Stevenson and O’Shea Jackson Jr. joined the red carpet premiere of Just Mercy during the 2019 Urbanworld Film Festival.
The Knockturnal: Can you talk about bringing this film to Urbanworld this year?
Bryan Stevenson: “It’s really exciting. I’m so thrilled that a platform like Urbanworld exists to give us an opportunity to present stories about our community and to give us an opportunity to talk honestly about things. So for me, it’s really exciting. I’ve been a lawyer for 30 [plus] years, so this is a different setting and I am persuaded that we have to get people to appreciate more of what’s happening. We have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. And that has to change so I’m hoping films like this, stories like this will get people to engage in these issues in a more honest way.”
The Knockturnal: What type of roles do you hope to play in the future?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: “They’ve always given me roles that they know are going to draw to me a little bit. They know what makes me tick and they know what subjects I care about. And I definitely want to step back into the dramatics after Straight Out of Compton. I’ve been trying to show my versatility, so I stepped into comedy, stepped into action, and I’ve been looking for that dramatic role that pulls at your heart strings and Just Mercy is that. Anthony Ray Hinton is such an amazing dude. He was wrongfully accused of murder in Alabama. They took 30 years away from his life and had him on death row. And he still kept his spirit, he still kept his sense of humor. And it just shows to the strength he had and so you gotta take these roles as an honor.”
How did you connect most with Anthony Ray Hinton?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: “I see a lot of myself in Anthony Ray. You know, you should never take a role that you don’t see yourself in! And he’s such an amazing person and hearing him speak about how much he loved his mother, seeing that he was a member of the row that kept spirits high… He was a light in so many dark times, he was a beacon of hope and one thing I personally take pride in myself is bringing people’s spirits up when you can, and so it’s not a lot of decomposing. I’ll always have a piece of Anthony Ray in me and I told him last night when I met him… Being a black man in America, the mindset that this film puts you in is there everyday! It was there before I got the job and after and so it’s just channeling that. Channeling that natural frustration you have from the situation that so many of us are put in. So it wasn’t nothing really it’s telling a story that’s been happening so many times.”
The Knockturnal: What is the goal of the movie?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: “I think the moral of the story is to first of all: not give up. These people who are wrongfully accused and put on death row are given the worst card possible and the strength that it takes to not lose a piece of yourself while you’re in there is incredible. Bryan Stevenson is an actual hero. This film is going to make some people uncomfortable, but when you have discomfort, you must want something to change. So I suggest we start changing.”
The Knockturnal: What makes this storyline different from other stories that focus on the imperfections of our justice system?
Bryan Stevenson: “Well, first of all, there’s no insertion of some type of white savior. There’s no insertion of a narrative that tries to compromise what really happened. And I think that’s important. There are people of color who are in the trenches fighting everyday. And their stories are important. And I think just creating a space for their stories to be told, and it’s also about the community and the people in our community and how we stand with one another during a crisis. And that’s an important story to be told. It’s for everyone. We want everybody to see this film. But I think it’s important that it be told in a way that’s authentic and true to what is happening and I’m really proud of that.”
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with this all-star cast?
Bryan Stevenson: “It’s been amazing. The whole cast is so extraordinary; they’re so talented. Michael B. Jordan has been fantastic. I told him he could keep his Black Panther body when he played me [Laughter]. That’ll work for me. And he’s an extraordinary performance. Jamie is amazing. O’Shea, Derrick. They’re all incredible.”
Just Mercy is set to release in December.