Byline: Brian Truitt, USA TODAY
TORONTO - Michael B. Jordan has been around enough movie marvels to know one when he sees it.
And just minutes after getting the crowd misty-eyed at the end of his inspirational new film "Just Mercy," the "Black Panther" star got choked up himself sitting by - and talking about - the man he plays onscreen.
"He's a real-life superhero," Jordan said of human-rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who joined director Destin Daniel Cretton and his cast for a Q&A after the film's world premiere Friday at Toronto International Film Festival. "It was very intimidating. After I got a chance to really get to know him, the story, his work, I felt like I had a great deal of pressure to get it right."
Based on Stevenson's book "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption," the legal drama focuses on the attorney (Jordan) who, fresh out of Harvard law school, goes to Alabama and founds the Equal Justice Initiative to help death-row inmates and others who can't afford it.
One of his clients is Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), who was sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of a 18-year-old white girl, but Bryan and fellow legal eagle Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) work tirelessly to overturn his conviction.
"All of these talented people make it a little easier 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 shape our lives," said Stevenson, who still works in Alabama.
"We have been governed by fear and anger in many places in the world and we've got to fight against it. You've got to find ways to revive hope, justice (and) love for human beings. We can't do it when we just throw people away."
Added Jordan: "I get emotional thinking about it because I really truly believe that this is going to help him fight what he's been (fighting), and we're just incredibly honored and at a loss for words."
"Just Mercy" is the kind of rousing, awards-friendly movie that will remind Oscar voters that Jordan hasn't snagged a nomination yet in his relatively short but impressive career.
Foxx could relate to a lot of the systemic racism McMillan faced, being from small-town Terrell, Texas, and hearing racial epithets thrown his way. He recalled Barack Obama's 2008 presidential election victory and how it didn't rate being on his hometown newspaper's front page.
"I understand what Walter McMillian was feeling, even now today," Foxx added. "If I'm driving in my nice car in my nice neighborhood and I see a police officer, it still makes me feel like something can happen."
Doing "Just Mercy" helped Larson "learn how to be a better person, a better ally, a better advocate," she said.
"It's hard not to cry, it's hard not to cheer. And I hope this will change the narrative of how we see folks," Foxx said. "We tell these stories a lot, but to get it right is really something."