It’s a famous story. A woman was brutally sexually assaulted, beaten and left for dead in New York’s Central Park. The police made a sweeping arrest of countless young boys who were in the park on that night in 1989. In the end, they singled out a group who would become known as the Central Park Five. The boys: Kevin Richardson, 14; Raymond Santana, 14; Antron McCray, 15; Yusef Salaam, 15; and 16-year-old Korey Wise.
The boys were unlawfully detained without legal counsel, interrogated, and coerced into making statements that would ultimately lead to their incarcerations. They served 6- to 14-year sentences, all the while each maintaining his innocence.
And then in 2002, a serial rapist stepped forward to confess to committing the crime. DNA matches left no doubt about his guilt. The Central Park Five sentences were all vacated and the five, now well into their adult years, were exonerated, their youth stolen and their lives forever changed. New York City subsequently settled a lawsuit with each of the men in 2014.
When They See Us chronicles the story in four made-for-Netflix episodes. Award-winning director Ava DuVernay and her cast and crew worked closely with the five men to recreate not only the sequence of court and prison events, but also the narratives of their respective families. The focus of the episodes is on the five young men, their families and the devastating experiences before, during, and following their incarceration.
DuVernay includes live footage of current president, Donald Trump. As a young financial magnate, Trump personally paid $85,000 for a New York Times ad, calling for the death penalty for the boys.
The movie also recreates the prominent roles of sex-crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein and case prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer. Both women have experienced job-related fallout since the release of this series.
DuVernay is also known for the 2016 documentary, 13th, also available on Netflix.
The release of When They See Us is timely. Be prepared to be exhausted, exasperated, and heartbroken. And to recommit to the way of justice. (Netflix)