On the July 1, 2020 edition of NYWIFT Talks, we joined Just Mercy Executive Producer and CEO of One Community Scott Budnick, Campaign Surrogate and Statewide Coordinator for The Young Women’s Freedom Center April Grayson, and Campaign Ambassador Donna Hylton to discuss the positive after-effects of Just Mercy, Black Lives Matter and civil unrest. The conversation was moderated by NYWIFT Executive Director Cynthia Lopez.
Award-winning filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy is based on the powerful and thought-provoking true story of young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Brie Larson).
One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence. Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings, as well as overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds—and the system—stacked against them.
As civil unrest began to sweep the nation in Summer 2020 in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the team behind Just Mercy made the film available to rent for free across all platforms.
April Grayson is the Statewide Coordinator for the Young Women’s Freedom Center, Sister Warrior’s Freedom Coalition. A coalition comprised of formerly and currently incarcerated women. The Young Women’s Freedom Center is an organization dedicated to building power in young people to be the leaders of change and raising awareness of the unfair sentencing and criminalization of young women and girls. She has dedicated her life to raising awareness of the mass incarceration of juveniles as well as women locked up in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). April is fully aware of the criminalization of women and girls as she spent 17 years in the carceral system. Knowing first-hand the terrors of incarceration, she has dedicated her life to giving women behind bars a voice. She also goes inside prisons to inspire and empower women with the hope of a better life. She is at the forefront of helping pass legislation that ensures women and girls get treated equally and without impartiality. She lives and loves what she does and will continue to fight until the system changes the way it treats our incarcerated women and young girls.
Donna Hylton is the first awardee of the Civil Rights Ann Atwater Award. She has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world and draws upon her experience imprisoned in a women’s correctional facility for 27 years, with some of that time spent in solitary confinement. Now released, Donna encourages systems to recognize how the trauma of sexual violence and abuse are often root causes that result in victimization and that 90% of women who have been abused are being incarcerated, especially women of color. Donna’s work focuses on building communities through economic, racial and gender justice, and the correlation between sexual violence and abuses and victim trauma and response. Donna is a founding member of A Little Piece Of Light Inc., a national initiative dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. She is especially concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources and attention to a prison system that preys upon the weak and victimized; she urges communities to think seriously about the school to prison pipelines. Donna is a key member of the Correctional Association’s “Violence Against Women Committee on the Inside”, an advisory committee member for the Parole Prep Project, a 2015 Just leadership USA Inaugural Fellow, a Board Member of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund and, an advisory Board Member of Mr. Harry Belafonte’s Sankofa organization. She is also the author of her memoir A Little Piece of Light published by Hachette Books. During her incarceration, Donna earned an Associate of Science degree, a Bachelor of Science degree in Behavioral Sciences with a concentration in Social Psychology, and a Master’s of Arts degree in English Literature from Mercy College.
Scott Budnick is an American film producer, Founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), and is currently CEO of One Community, LLC – a film, television, and new media co-financing company that uses the power of storytelling to encourage and inspire positive global change. Recently, Budnick returned to the film business as executive producer of One Community’s first film, Just Mercy, released in theaters on January 10, 2020. As the former Executive Vice President of Todd Phillips’ Green Hat Films, Budnick produced Old School, Due Date, and the highest-grossing R-rated comedy trilogy in film history, The Hangover‘, which grossed over $1.4 billion. Since 2004, Budnick has been a fierce advocate for social justice and a fairer judicial system. In 2003, he began volunteering with InsideOUT Writers (IOW), a program that brings creative writing into juvenile halls. In 2014, Budnick founded ARC, whose mission is to reduce incarceration, improve the outcomes of formerly incarcerated individuals, and build healthier communities. ARC provides formerly incarcerated men and women with direct services such as housing, counseling, job training and opportunities, mentoring, and education. The organization also empowers and mobilizes its members to play a role in justice reform efforts through direct policy advocacy. For his work with youth in the criminal justice system, Governor Jerry Brown named Scott the 2012 California Governor’s Volunteer of the Year. He sits on the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) and was selected to serve as a Board Member for President Barack Obama’s foundation, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.
Cynthia López (moderator) is the Executive Director of New York Women in Film & Television, an award-winning media strategist, and former Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, where she implemented strategies to support film and TV production throughout the five boroughs. López is the recipient of many coveted industry awards including: 11 News and Documentary Emmy Awards, a Special Emmy Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking, three Peabody Awards, and two duPont-Columbia Awards. In addition, she received the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Award for Commitment to Corporate Diversity. Prior to working as Commissioner, López was Executive Vice President and co-Executive Producer of the award-winning PBS documentary series American Documentary | POV, and was involved in the organization’s strategic growth and creative development for 14 years. Her ability to forge strategic partnerships among corporate and public interest media has been a signature of her work. Notable partnerships include: New York Times, Reuters, Al-Jazeera Network, Discovery Communications, The Moth, Story Corps, Harpo Studios and ABC News, NIGHTLINE with Ted Koppel. López is a founding member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP), and is proud to have spent her career collaborating with independent filmmakers across all portions of the film and television industry. She served on the Board of Trustees for the Paley Center, NYC & Company, Museum of the Moving Image and the Tribeca Film Institute Latin America Fund Advisory Board. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Latino Public Broadcasting, Manhattan Neighborhood Network and Hunter College IMA Program.
April Grayson & Donna Hylton:
About NYWIFT Talks
NYWIFT Talks is a new weekly series to bring updated news and vital information about the impact of COVID-19 on the media and entertainment industry. Industry professionals will be in conversation discussing what you need to know about theatrical releases, digital advances, virtual tools, festival opportunities, production updates and more.