Bingo Square: Adaptation (movie)
I vaguely remember reading the movie review on Pajiba when this movie came out, and it described it as good but formulaic, so I didn’t go out of my way to watch it (not that I have been watching a lot of dramas to start with). When it became free to rent, I decided to check it out, and while I can see why from a movie reviewer perspective one might describe it as formulaic, there is a reason for that – this shit keeps happening. Obviously we need to keep telling these stories if things aren’t changing. The movie told a powerful story, and made me curious about the book it was based on.
Overall, the movie followed Walter McMillian’s case closely with some pieces being condensed or simplified. Other parts of the film happened to Bryan Stevenson but not quite in the setting the film portrayed. However, the part of the book that is so powerful beyond the movie is all the extra cases it provided a spot light to. Walter’s case is the thread throughout the book, and Stevenson uses his story to show all the work involved in these types of cases as well as the long term impact these convictions have even after release through McMillian and his family. Given how early in his career the McMillian case occurred and the friendship he developed with his client, it is obvious why Stevenson would center his book around Walter. But it is the other chapters and parts that make this book worth reading even if you have already seen and enjoyed the movie.
He alternates between chapters about Walter McMillian, and his own personal story in the beginning, and then other topics and cases once his and Walter’s timelines meet. Stevenson shares his struggles setting up in Alabama, his workload, the many clients he tried to help. Later in the book, he goes more deeply into the types of work the Equal Justice Initiative focused on, telling the stories of people committed to life in prison for crimes committed at the age of 13 and 14. The work focused on changing sentencing laws for children as well working with people on death row.
He also spends a chapter talking about how law was weaponized against pregnant women, with women being blamed for miscarriages. I was familiar with some of this from reading feminist blogs in the past, but I appreciated seeing the perspective of someone doing the work to clear these women, and trying to get these types of laws struck from the books.
I know I was one of the people that thought it was good that people were adding all kinds of books on anti-racism to their reading list, while also hoping they wouldn’t lose momentum by getting only texts that were too dense (I am still working on Stamped from the Beginning so that concern was based on personal experience, not judgment). I think Just Mercy is the perfect middle ground – it tells human stories and gives names and voices to the statistics while also providing the hard facts and showing the laws and policies that are working against justice.
Also, as a side note, the movie and book both point out the dark irony of the location of McMillian’s trial – the town’s claim to fame was Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, the story of an innocent black man accused and convicted. Based on McMillian’s case, the community obviously took the wrong lesson to heart and used it as a how to rather than as inspiration to do the right thing.