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Is Just Mercy a real story?

The true powerful tale behind the Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx movie

Published: Sunday, 19th January 2020 at 5:10 pm

Powerful and thought-provoking, Just Mercy tells a heart-breaking story of racial discrimination and injustice.


The movie follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan) as he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly convicted, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Brie Larson). It’s in this role he attempts to defend Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man accused of murdering an 18-year-old girl.

Just how much of the film is based on fact? Answer: quite a lot. Here’s all you need to know…

Is Just Mercy based on a real story?

Yes, Stevenson, McMillian and Eva Ansley are all based on real people. Just Mercy is actually based on Stevenson’s memoir of the same name.

In 1987, McMillian was convicted of killing a white woman, Ronda Morrison, who was shot multiple times at a dry cleaners. After he was handed the death sentence, Stevenson took on his case, unearthing several instances of racial discrimination.

It transpired that McMillian’s initial trial took place over only a day-and-a-half, with a majority white jury finding McMillian guilty despite several alibi witnesses.

Before this conviction, McMillian had no criminal record outside a misdemeanour charge after a bar fight.

McMillian was arrested by newly elected Sheriff Tom Tate, who was under pressure to catch a suspect. He reportedly told McMillian after the arrest: “I don’t give a damn what you say or what you do. I don’t give a damn what your people say either. I’m going to put twelve people on a jury who are going to find your goddamn black a** guilty.”

What happened to the real Walter McMillian?

After five appeals and six years behind bars, McMillian was exonerated and freed from prison. Many witnesses that had testified against McMillian admitted they had lied in their original testimony and judges ruled that the state had suppressed evidence.

After he was released, McMillian filed a civil lawsuit against state and local officials, who settled for an undisclosed amount.

McMillian eventually died in 2013, aged 71.

Bryan Stevenson is still alive today as is Director of Equal Justice Initiative, an organisation that provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted.

(L to R) Michael B. Jordan, Bryan Stevenson and Jamie Foxx
(L to R) Michael B. Jordan, Bryan Stevenson and Jamie Foxx

Just Mercy is in cinemas now


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