The Black And Latino Boys Documented In ‘Whey They See Us’ Weren’t The Only Ones Who Had Their Lives Ruined
By now, Netflix has found a way to produce TV shows that deal with often uncomfortable topics. From the “Ted Bundy Tapes,” which examines the sex appeal of a horrible serial killer, to “1994,” which discusses thorny issues in recent Mexican political history, the streaming giant has revisited historical events that have been mired in controversy.
The latest show to set the Internet of fire is “When They See Us,” a dramatizes retelling of the story of five POC young men who were wrongly incarcerated after the rape of Trisha Meili, a white woman who was attacked in the North Woods of Manhattan’s Central Park on April 19, 1989. Following the crimes, the city was put on alert and the police department was pressured into finding a culprit. And, of course, as was sort of expected, they found the face of evil in five teenagers of color (four Blacks and one Latino): Raymond Santana, 14; Kevin Richardson, 15; Antron McCray, 15; Yusef Salaam, 15; and 16-year-old Korey Wise. These five teenagers were deprived of their innocence and sent to a juvenile correctional facility on charges of rape, assault and related crimes in 1990. Korey, who was then just 16, was sent to adult prison. Needless to say, their lives were forever changed.
But surprise, surprise, they were not guilty, just as they had stated all along. In 2002 the real assailant confessed and DNA testing verified his guilt. The convictions were vacated. However, these men and their families had to rebuild their lives. Netflix has now financed and distributed a four-episode series that explores the social and psychological impact that the events had in the country (the case garnered a lot of media attention, and white supremacists saw the Central Park murder as a validation of sus ideas pendejas). The cast is testament of the talent of independent cinema and of people of color working in Hollywood: Jharrel Jerome, Jovan Adepo, Michael K. Williams, Logan Marshall-Green, Joshua Jackson, Blair Underwood, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, and Kylie Bunbury give life to this story.
The series, which was launched on May 31, has gotten a lot of attention and has caused all the feelings with viewers.
People have headed to Twitter to express their anger and disgust.
The story of the Central Park Five often seems like an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” One day you are a normal teenager minding your own business and the next you are being profiled at a police station and public figures want you dead.
The show is an indictment of a broken system.
Rather than an isolated event, “When They See Us”is indicative of a judicial and prison system in which ethnic and racial minorities are disadvantaged. Just think about this, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2013 black males accounted for 37 percent of the total male prison population, white males 32 percent, and Hispanic males 22 percent. The figures of Black and Brown inmates just seem to be increasing.
What if the real assailant hadn’t come forward?
This Twitter user served us with a harsh truth: the only reason why the Central Park Five have been exonerated is the guilt that the real rapist and murderer felt. Can you imagine how many innocent men and women are wrongly imprisoned today?
“When They See Us”will make you cry and feel angry, and that is okay.
One of the great things about art is that by making us feel something, political action is often instigated. Many viewers have questioned the invulnerability of the system by watching this show. Let’s remember that this is a topic that Netflix has tackled before, particularly in the show “Orange is the New Black,” were Black, Brown and white identities are confronted in the prison industrial complex.
Before we forget. Yes, Donald Trump, then a real estate magnate, did call for their execution.
The current POTUS paid an ad on New York’s most popular newspapers calling for the execution of the Central Park Five. This dramatically changed public perception of the young men, and their culpability was presumed. Trump spent $85,000 on these ads. Trump wrote: “At what point did we cross the line from the fine and noble pursuit of genuine civil liberties to the reckless an dangerously permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman and then laugh at her family’s anguish? I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them.” Damn.
The show is spearheaded by Ava DuVernay, a powerful female voice in Hollywood.
The show is the brainchild of Ava DuVernay, who has made a name for herself as a talented filmmaker who can at the same time deal with thorny issues regarding African-American history and create compelling, commercially viable movies. She directed the Golden Globe-nominated “Selma”and the Oscar-nominated documentary “13th.”
DuVernay is a power player in the industry, so “When They See Us”could get traction.
Ava has done what many consider still kind of impossible in Hollywood: she has established a name for herself even if she is a Black woman. Besides Shonda Rhimes, there are not many Black women who have made their voice heard in a white and male-dominated industry. We need more people like Ava and more shows like “When They See Us.”
The original title was “Central Park Five.”
We like the final title much better: it gives the show a bigger sense of universality. Also, Central Park Five centers on the trauma and not necessarily on the post-incarceration story of redemption.
It is one of the highest ranked TV shows on Rotten Tomatoes.
The acclaim has been universal: it has a 94 percent Fresh score on the aggregated review site Rotten Tomatoes. Critics have highlighted the impact that the prosecution and journalists had in how the teens were seen by the public. Hannah Giorgis from The Atlantic wrote: In rendering their journeys, DuVernay pays careful attention to the terrifying power of language, especially the animalistic rhetoric with which prosecutors and journalists referred to the teens.” Ouch: this is still true for much of American media.
There is an Oprah special, “Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now,” with the original five protagonists.
You can see a bit here, but the full interview was released on Netflix and the Oprah Winfrey Network on June 12. In this interview, Oprah looks at their lives and raises questions about the system that allowed this to happen. How many more Black and Brown youth are suffering from similar injustices today?
They are still good friends, brothers forever.
We can’t stop shedding a tear when we see this photo. Five men who keep positive even if innocence was taken away from them unexpectedly. How to be optimistic afterlife has dealt you the worst possible hand? Todo un ejemplo de actitud, caballeros.
READ: Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’ Explores The True Story Of The Injustices Against Black And Brown Boys
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