The upcoming Warner Bros film follows the true story of Walter McMillian, an African-American man sentenced to death in Alabama for a murder he didn’t commit. He eventually was exonerated. The film is based on the bestselling memoir of the same name by Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been denied a fair trial.
Earlier this month, Stevenson, Jordan, producer Scott Budnick and Warner Bros EVP Film Production Niija Kuykendall introduced clips of the film at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Miami.
After a Q&A with CNN’s Van Jones at the confab, Jordan told Deadline he wanted to tell this particular story to give back and educate people about inequality in the criminal justice system. “With this project, I feel like we want to change some hearts and change some minds,” he said.
The story began in the 1980s, when Stevenson — then a recent Harvard Law School grad — took on McMillian’s case. “I heard his story, and this is depicted in the film, I went back and read the file. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, my God, this man is innocent. There’s no way he committed this crime,’ ” Stevenson told Deadline.
Jordan portrays the young lawyer opposite Jamie Foxx as McMillian. The Black Panther star said he was determined to convince Foxx to take on the role.
“I called him and I thought he was perfect for it,” Jordan said. “It’s really hard to make movies in general, just everything has to line up perfectly, everybody’s schedule has to work out, and we were able to get Jamie.”
Destin Daniel Cretton directs and co-wrote the script. The cast also includes Brie Larson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Rob Morgan, Rafe Spall and Tim Blake Nelson.
Additional producers on the film include Gil Netter and Asher Goldstein. Stevenson, Mike Drake, Niija Kuykendall, Gabriel Hammond, Daniel Hammond, Scott Budnick, Jeff Skoll and Charles D. King served as executive producers.
While Jordan and Larson are both part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the actor said it was Larson’s connection to Cretton that ultimately led to her casting.
“I didn’t make that Marvel call,” Jordan joked. “She worked with our director, Destin Cretton, on Short Term 12, which was her first indie project that really put her on the map.”
Larson and Foxx have both taken home Oscars. Although Jordan noted people sometimes forget the Ray star – who also sings, hosts TV shows, and does stand-up comedy — is such a talented actor.
“I wanted to remind people who Jamie Foxx was. I think people forgot over the years, that this is the man who played Ray [Charles], who won that Academy Award, and this was the type of material that was going to show people that, and he took it seriously,” Jordan said, adding that Foxx helped elevate the film.
“He was a great scene partner. He helped me out a lot while shooting this film,” Jordan said. “I just can’t imagine anybody else taking on that role.”
Just Mercy is set to make its world premiere next month at the Toronto Film Festival. The drama will get a limited release December 25 and expand into wide release January 10.