By Anna Wyckoff | January 9, 2020
Making Just Mercy was a personal passion project for Costume Designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, which is only fitting for a film about people bringing justice when the legal system has failed. The story follows an attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) working to free a wrongly condemned death row prisoner, Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx). The courtroom drama shows the early civil rights work that would lead to the founding of Equal Justice Initiative with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) in 1989.
Period pieces can often be difficult, especially when the time frame is part of the living memory of the audience. That is particularly true when the characters are based on real people. Of course, having access to the person upon whom the story is based is invaluable. “Brian Stevenson himself was an incredible source of information and his doors were always open. If he did not get back to you right away, he would mention that he was maybe arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court and humbly apologize. He’s just a real-life superhero. We also met the real Eva Angsley, who was just wonderful.”
Portraying the characters also meant paying attention to the tiny details that spoke so much to the circumstances. Jamison-Tanchuck explains, “For court, Walter made sure that he was very presentable, but looking closely at his clothing, I noticed in some of the research you could see a little bit of wear, a little tear or something on one of his suits.”
Jamison-Tanchuck set a high bar for herself in order to achieve a level of authenticity. “I did not want to recreate the clothing by building a lot of things,” she explains. Although on other projects she has been known to build every item down to the hats, she sought pieces imbued with an existing sense of history. “I decided to look for found treasures in vintage and antique clothing. It just seemed more real to me. I had wonderful buyers that just scoured Los Angeles also here in Georgia and New York.”
Art and life intersected throughout the project, notably when the members of the current Equal Justice Initiative visited while they were filming in Montgomery and became the background for shots on the steps of the State Supreme Court. “It just does something to your sensibility,” she says. “I think our entire crew felt that way. Whatever part that played or whatever job we had on this film, we all felt that it was an honor.”