Maya Moore, Jonathan Irons and filmmaker talk ESPN documentary ‘Breakaway’

7 min read

Capturing the intricacies, personal details, and romance wrapped inside Jonathan Irons’ fight for justice with the assistance of WNBA star Maya Moore, is not any small feat. But award-winning documentary filmmaker Rudy Valdez has done just that together with his new ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries, “Breakaway.” The couple and Valdez joined “Good Morning America” on Tuesday to share more of the story and the way they hope this new lens beyond the headlines will affect positive change. Moore, who received the Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs on Saturday for her work with criminal justice reform, said this powerful story will likely resonate with tons of various people.

“I think it’s such a person’s story, and a part of my desire to share was I actually felt like people can find themselves during this story,” she said. “Whether they’re connecting with Jonathan’s struggle or his fight, or if you’re also an athlete like I’m, or simply concerning my relations … you’ll end up during this story, and that I hope it can encourage people from all walks of life.” When Irons was 16 years old, he was tried and convicted as an adult by an all-white jury for the burglary and shooting at the house of 38-year-old Stanley Stotler. Irons maintained his innocence while he was in prison, saying he was wrongly identified during the lineup.

After years of fighting, a Missouri judge overturned Irons’ conviction in March 2020, saying there have been problems with the way the case had been investigated and tried — including a fingerprint report that would’ve proved Irons’ innocence not being turned over to his defense . The Emmy Award-winning director had an in-depth personal tie to Moore and Irons’ story, together with his previous film “The Sentence,” which focused on Valdez’s own fight to free his sister from prison. “It’s the inspiration of who I’m as a storyteller,” Valdez said of his first film. “I wanted to travel around that and tell a really personal human story about what it means to incarcerate somebody for an extended amount of your time. And what that does to the community and families left behind.”

He said he took everything from that have and kept it in mind for “Breakaway” to assist tell Irons’ story. “I immediately I wanted to urge past the headline — to not sidestep how wonderful and legendary a basketeer Maya is,” he said. “I knew that there was something around the corner of that headline. And at its core, this film is a few people believing in another person .” As he unfolded more layers about the couple, who married in 2020 amid the pandemic, Valdez said he found “this agency — these two people, this family that is heroes in their own story.” “I wanted to inform that version of the story because I feel that the hearts and minds are what is going on to assist change these laws and help change people’s perspective on incarceration and other people who are incarcerated and families of these incarcerated, so I feel very fortunate to possess been ready to tell this story,” the filmmaker continued.

Irons shared the range of emotions that he’s felt since the beginning of prison, marrying Moore and starting a replacement life. “It’s like being awakened — or returning to life again after almost living during a frozen land,” he said. “Coming call at society and just being embraced amorously and goodness and just people embracing me and eager to encourage me and check on me. It matters. I would like that for other prisoners that begin of prison and other people that are wrongly convicted.” Irons added that he has not felt an equivalent stigma that will accompany that transition, hailing his wife for her unwavering support. “I’m so grateful to be married to Maya, she’s been instrumental in my transition and just helping me understand the planet and society,” Irons said.

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