Friends and family of famed equal justice attorney and Milton native Bryan Stevenson turned out at Movies at Midway Dec. 26 to see Hollywood’s take on Stevenson’s life and career.
A packed house showed up for the private screening to see “Just Mercy,” the film based on Stevenson’s memoir starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. The film is in limited release until Friday, Jan. 10, when it goes into wide release.
Stevenson himself, in town to celebrate Christmas with his family, appeared at the Dec. 26 screening, accompanied by his sister, Christy Taylor.
“I’m so excited for the film to come out,” Stevenson said. “It’s such an honor to have my work featured in a major motion picture. I’m also excited to be here in Delaware. This is still my home. This is where I grew up.”
Delaware gets a brief cameo in the film for a scene where Stevenson, as played by Jordan, packs up to leave for Alabama, where he has received funding to represent inmates on Death Row who lack legal representation.
The film dramatizes one of Stevenson’s first major cases, Walter “Johnny D” McMillian, played by Foxx, was arrested for the murder of a teenage white woman in Monroeville, Ala., a crime that he maintains he did not commit. McMillian is tried and convicted using testimony from a witness whose statements may have been coerced. Stevenson fights for McMillian’s freedom, overcoming a racially biased justice system as well as the reluctance of his client to challenge that system.
The real Stevenson first saw the film at its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and has since seen it several more times as he helps promote the film.
“I think they did a great job. There’s some really strong performances that I think bring to life the dignity and humanity of the clients I’ve represented, and I’m really grateful people will get to see that,” Stevenson said.
Among the other Stevenson clients appearing in supporting roles are Anthony Ray Hinton, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Herbert Richardson, portrayed by Rob Morgan.
Holding a screening at the Movies at Midway was doubly special for Stevenson and Taylor because their father spent 20 years working at the theater. Every Christmas, the family would see a film at the theater.
Taylor said she wasn’t surprised to see her brother get the Hollywood treatment, and she is grateful for a mass audience to see stories about people they may not otherwise think about.
Speaking of her brother, Taylor said, “His whole life has been so gigantic. I’m glad people are noticing it now. It’s exciting.”
Stevenson said it is a surreal experience to see himself on the big screen.
“It’s a little hard to get your head around. I’m honored that people care enough about the kind of work I do and are interested enough that they would want to create a film like this,” he said.
“I’m particularly excited for my clients in the communities where I’ve worked for 35 years,” Stevenson said. “It means a lot for someone to recognize their struggles, and that’s what this film does in a major way.”
Bryan Stevenson exhibit to extend its run
As “Just Mercy” opens to a wide audience, those who see the film will get a chance to learn of Stevenson’s upbringing in Milton, as the Milton Historical Society has announced it will extend the run of its exhibit, “Walking Into Greatness: Bryan Stevenson.”
The exhibit, which opened in May at the Lydia Cannon Museum, was scheduled to end Dec. 31, but the society plans to keep it running until Friday, Feb. 28.
For more information on the society, the museum and the exhibit, visit www.historicmilton.org.