Michael B. Jordan is no stranger to superhero movies, including “Black Panther” and “Fantastic Four.” But he says his latest film, the social justice drama “Just Mercy,” is one in which he portrays “a real-life superhero.”
The Warner Bros. legal drama stars Jordan as civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson as he established the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama to defend and free improperly convicted death row prisoners.
Jordan was admittedly at a loss for words when the movie made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. When he and the cast came on stage after a screening at the Elgin Theatre on Friday night, they were met with a minutes-long standing ovation that Jordan finally ended by taking his seat.
“I felt honored to be able to get up on set every day, go to work every day and try to make a difference, to try to be part of that change,” said Jordan, also a producer on the movie who convinced Stevenson to grant him the rights to his story. “I really, truly believe this is going to help him fight the fight he’s been doing.”
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Stevenson was the recipient of praise throughout the entirety of the emotional evening. “He inspires all of us on this stage to push forward with hope and love, in the face of all the work we have to do,” said director Destin Daniel Cretton, next helming Marvel’s “Shang-Chi.” He paused his introduction of the movie to hold back a few tears. “Thank you for all the work you’ve done for us.”
Nevertheless, Stevenson repeatedly redirected the focus of the Dec. 25 limited release to the people in the audience, as well as the inmates he continues to assist. “I hope this movie helps us to see what’s at stake when we tolerate injustice, what we lose when we put up with inequality, what we suffer when we permit discrimination and bigotry to rule and to shape our lives,” he said after the screening.
“We’ve been governed by fear and anger in too many places in the world, and we’ve got to fight against that. We’ve got to find ways to revive hope, to revive justice, to revive justice for our fellow human beings. We can’t just throw them away.”
“I didn’t write the book to entertain, and I don’t think anyone on the stage made this movie to entertain,” he added. “We want to create a more just society, and [that] happens when people who see this movie respond.”
Jamie Foxx, who previously appeared in the 2014 film “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” portrays the ill-fated death row inmate Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian — a role with which he said he’s familiar due to his tough upbringing in Terrell, Texas, a town with a local newspaper that refused to print the news of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election victory.
“I understood a lot of things before we even started. I understood what it was to be called a [N-word] or just have [racist ideas] blatantly stated to you as just a matter of fact,” he explained to the audience. “Even now and today, if I’m driving in my nice car in my nice neighborhood and I see that police officer; it still makes me feel like something can happen. Not to demonize all police officers, but I still feel that.”
“Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson made her time with the mic brief, echoing the spirit of her supporting role. “I got to learn how to be a better person, a better ally, a better advocate, not just from learning more about Eva [Ansley, her character, who is EJI’s operations director], EJI and the folks on the ground doing this fight every day, but also from getting to know these people,” she said of her cast.
After the screening, members of the cast — including Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Karan Kendrick — were celebrating at a lavish after party at the Fermenting Cellar, sitting on velvet couches and clinking cocktails. Stevenson, however, was standing in a quieter corner of the rustic venue, patiently making his way through a queue of guests who were waiting to speak to him.
“He really is a superhero, he is changing our country,” Nelson, who previously worked with Jordan on 2015’s “Fantastic Four,” told The Times of Stevenson at the bash. Added “Luke Cage” alum Morgan, “He’s putting his life on the line every day.”