By Ale Russian
August 19, 2019 at 10:04 AM EDT
JAKE GILES NETTER/Warner Bros.

Michael B. Jordan’s next role might just be his most emotional one yet.

The Creed actor, 32, plays Harvard-educated lawyer Bryan Stevenson for his next movie, Just Mercy. The drama follows the real-life story of Stevenson, who went to Alabama to help defend those who are wrongly condemned in the racially-charged state.

One of those men is Jamie Foxx’s Walter McMillian, a pulpwood worker sentenced to death for capital murder despite evidence proving his innocence.

“What appealed most was being able to share Bryan’s inspiring story and shed light on those affected by the inequities and implications of our current criminal justice system,” Jordan tells PEOPLE about why he was so drawn to the project. “It’s easy to ignore statistics; it’s harder when you put a human face to it. I hope that giving more context to something that’s been happening for such a long time and understanding that it’s still happening will give people a sense of appreciation for the freedom that we have, but also motivate them to demand answers for the injustices that are continually happening today.”

The movie is based on Stevenson’s 2014 book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

In playing a Stevenson, Jordan was focused on getting “his essence right — measured, compassionate, optimistic, courageous.” “He was extremely generous with his time and has been a guiding light, every step of the way,” he says.

“When I speak about Bryan, it’s hard to find words that are worthy enough. It goes without saying that he is intelligent and passionate with a huge heart. But it also took tremendous courage to take on this fight. He is a true hero,” he continues.

The project recalls Jordan’s breakout film, Fruitvale Station (2013), which also told a true powerful story meant to effect change.

“We’re only on this earth for a short amount of time, so how one can make an impact, and how that impact can continue to affect people’s lives in a positive way—and inspire future generations—is, at the end of the day, really important to me,” Jordan explains of how he navigates his career. “It’s what I’m trying to do with my body of work. I personally feel it would be something of a waste if I didn’t maximize this opportunity to do something with my life to make it count.”

Just Mercy also stars Brie Larson, the operations director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Anthony Ray Hinton, another black man who was wrongly convicted of murder in Alabama.

The drama will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. It opens Dec. 25, 2019.

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