by Merecedes J. Williams, For New Pittsburgh Courier
Director and executive producer Ava Duvernay premiered a gruesome four-part series on Netflix last weekend about the Central Park Five. “When They See Us” shows how a corrupt system sent five teenage boys to prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
After a night of playing in Central Park in April 1989, the lives of Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise would change forever. The 24th precinct of the NYPD were on the hunt to make someone pay for the brutal rape of a 28-year-old White woman, Trisha Meili. The case would gain national attention and put five boys on trial without concrete DNA evidence and eyewitness testimony. After 42 hours of coercion, interrogation, and lack of parental supervision, the Central Park Five, as the boys were called, were charged with assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse, and attempted murder.
This docuseries points a lot of fingers and chronologically shows how people failed the Central Park Five. But, prosecutor Linda Fairstein is the biggest failure of them all. I believe she should be in prison for withholding evidence, rushing to judgment and falsely incriminating the Central Park Five, and monetizing on such an unfortunate situation. She lacked clear judgment and clearly had a racial bias, and should have never been able to practice for as long as she did.
Ava DuVernay don’t make no mess! “When They See Us” is her best work to date in my opinion. Although the content is dark, it is colorful and vibrant. Even the saddest parts are interwoven with perseverance and faithful optimism. That takes skills. “When They See Us” is DuVernay’s magical masterpiece.
“When They See Us” is hard to watch and a must-watch all at the same time. It is upsetting and intense, yet it’s informative and eye-opening. The last part of the series, which focuses on Korey Wise, was really hurtful. As a teenager, he was thrown on Rikers Island and expected to protect himself from some of the world’s most dangerous criminals.
Like Kalief Browder, who also was sent to Rikers Island in 2010 for three years at age of 16 for a crime of which he never was convicted, Wise was attacked, destroyed and shuffled through the New York penal system like a piece of trash.
We failed them both.
I wonder how many other men and women, who don’t have Netflix specials or primetime headlines, are slipping through the correctional cracks.
Each member of the Central Park Five spent time in prison, until Matias Reyes, who was already in prison for another crime, confessed to raping Meili. The Five were finally released from prison, and ultimately won a $41 million settlement from New York City.
In Browder’s case, he committed suicide at the age of 22, two years after his release from prison. Many people believe the suicide was due to his mental, physical and sexual abuse he suffered while in prison.
The cast of “When They See Us” is phenomenal. So many young actors, such as Storm Reid, Jharrel Jerome and Asante Blackk are now in an even bigger spotlight to showcase their talents. The veterans have a strong presence too, such as Blair Underwood, Neicy Nash, Michael K. Williams, John Leguizamo and Felicity Huffman.
But the actress who portrayed Yusef Salaam’s mother, Aunjanue Ellis, takes the cake. Every time she read one line, as the memes would say, “I felt that.”
In part three, she says, “They hate your brilliance. They hate your beauty. They hate us. But we are not going to hate ourselves.” Best line of 2019.
“When They See Us” should be watched with someone you love. Whether it be a spouse, child, family member or friend, this docuseries is meant to ruffle some feathers and have some open discussions about generational field day on our men.
(Read more of Courier movie/TV show critic Merecedes J. Williams’ columns at www.new pittsburghcourier.com.)
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