“Just Mercy,” a new film that tells the true story of a death row inmate who was freed from jail after a court found he had been wrongfully convicted of murder, has a connection with St. Bonaventure University.
The man whose story is told in the film, Walter McMillian, was convicted in an Alabama court and sentenced to death. He was freed through the efforts of Bryan A. Stevenson, an attorney who is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes, poor prisoners without effective representation, and others who may have been denied a fair trial.
Stevenson also led the efforts to free Anthony Ray Hinton, who like McMillian was wrongfully convicted of murder by an Alabama Court and sentenced to death. Hinton spent 28 years on death row before his conviction was overturned.
Stevenson’s book, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” was selected for St. Bonaventure’s All Bonaventure Reads program in 2015. As part of the annual program, all first-year students receive a copy of the selected book and are asked to write essays reflecting on it. In addition, the book’s author usually visits campus and addresses students, faculty and community members. Hinton represented Stevenson and spoke at St. Bonaventure in 2015.
Hinton’s Oct. 26, 2015, speech so moved St. Bonaventure's freshman class that they decided to invite him back four years later to deliver their commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate.
O’Shea Jackson Jr., the oldest son of rapper Ice Cube, portrays Hinton in the film “Just Mercy.”
“He has a small role in ‘Just Mercy,’ but I made sure that I did him justice,” Jackson said in an interview with Film.
Although Hinton’s part in the movie is small, Jackson said he learned he has much in common with the former death row inmate.
“I see a lot of myself in Anthony Ray. You know, you should never take a role that you don’t see yourself in,” he told The Knockturnal. “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,” Jackson continued. “Being a black man in America, the mindset that this film puts you in is there every day. 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.”
“Just Mercy” opened on a limited basis on Christmas Day and is scheduled for wide release in January.