Ava DuVernay’s Powerful Netflix Series When They See Us is a Must-Watch
When They See Us is an emotional new series by Ava DuVernay that is an essential part of understanding what it is to be black in America and in the hands of a flawed criminal justice system.
When They See Us is based on the true story which had the attention of the nation in 1989 and chronicles the notorious case of five teenagers of color, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit.
The four-part limited series spans across decades showing the intimate lives of the five wrongfully convicted teenagers from Harlem — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise. Beginning in the spring of 1989, when the teenagers were first questioned about the incident, the series spans 25 years, highlighting their exoneration in 2002 and the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014.
The series is broken into four parts. The first part exposes police culture that forces the young boys into coerced video admissions by interrogating them without their parents or lawyers present. Sleep and food deprivation and harassment were used on the scared teens who had nowhere to turn for help. They just wanted to go home and did whatever the police were telling them to do. A night of running in the park with other teens, seen by many as horseplay when you think of the Brock Turners of the world, found five young boys pursued by police for a crime that they did not commit. They became an easy target when so many police and detectives didn’t value their lives nor care about the truth even when it was staring them in the face.
Part two focuses on the court system and how even with a weak case, no DNA match, no witnesses and no matching stories, the criminal justice system still sent five innocent young boys to jail. Donald Trump famously took out ads calling for the death penalty for the five boys, even before their trial, spending $85,000 on full-page ads in four newspapers. He helped to spark the public damnation of the teens and to spread a guilty verdict in the minds of the nation.
Part three chronicles the teens’ journey through juvenile detention, jail, parole, and life after some of the men were dropped back into society with no support to begin their life. DuVernay shows the fear that society has of anyone that has gone through the system and the barriers in finding employment and living a normal life when the odds are stacked against them.
Part four tells the story of incarceration in America. Korey goes through everything imaginable sent to an adult facility at 16, and by part four if you don’t have tears in your eyes, check for your heartbeat. DuVernay shows how the system not only emotionally tears through the falsely accused but also the dynamics of the pain and emotion of their family. The path to the men being exonerated was not an easy one, even when the real criminal came forward and was identified with DNA and an admission. The real criminal had to keep repeating his story because the justice system wanted to lump him in as the 6th accomplice to the original crime.
When They See Us was created by Ava DuVernay, who also co-wrote and directed the four parts. She enlisted the help of Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King from Participant Media, Oprah Winfrey from Harpo Films, and Jane Rosenthal, Berry Welsh and Robert De Niro from Tribeca Productions who executive produced the limited series alongside DuVernay through Array FilmWorks. In addition to DuVernay, Attica Locke, Robin Swicord, Michael Starrbury and Julian Breece also served as writers.
The series stars Emmy Award® Nominee Michael K. Williams, Academy Award® Nominee Vera Farmiga, Emmy Award® Winner John Leguizamo, Academy Award® Nominee and Emmy Award® Winner Felicity Huffman, Emmy Award® Nominee Niecy Nash, Emmy Award® Winner and two-time Golden Globe Nominee Blair Underwood, Emmy Award® and Grammy Award® Winner and Tony Award® Nominee Christopher Jackson, Joshua Jackson, Omar J. Dorsey, Adepero Oduye, Famke Janssen, Aurora Perrineau, William Sadler, Jharrel Jerome, Jovan Adepo, Aunjanue Ellis, Kylie Bunbury, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Storm Reid, Dascha Polanco, Chris Chalk, Freddy Miyares, Justin Cunningham, Ethan Herisse, Caleel Harris, Marquis Rodriguez, and Asante Blackk.
For more details log on to Netflix.