Ava DuVernay’s “When they See Us” a Cautionary Tale of Injustice in America

When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s  Netflix four-episode dramatization that Released May 31st is  the true story of the Central Park Five—five  innocent boys of color between the ages of 14 and 16 who were coerced into confessing to a brutal rape they did not commit, and then were convicted of that crime . 

This is hard TV to watch but highly encouraged .  It not only shows the chilling circumstances that Black men are faced with in America everyday it also shows just how far coerced false confessions can go in the biased minds and one sided hateful prejudice operations of our criminal justice system. It also shows how fractured families can become in these instances, and how biased thinking can create a crime within a crime that was never even committed  . 

Director Ava DuVernay with Exonerated Central Park Five Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise

They were arrested and within a year were tried and found guilty.  The fact is, they didn’t do it.  Seeking atonement, the real rapist confessed years later (which DNA evidence confirmed), and the now adult men were exonerated for the crime.  They eventually sued and finally received their justice in the form of a $41 million settlement from the city, but the damage was done.  These men lost their youth and their innocence.

Lets not forget that the men were released into a world now run by the very man who called for their execution 30 years ago . Then realestate developer now POTUS Donald Trump ran ads in the NYTimes with headlines that read ” BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY BRING BACK OUR POLICE”  demanding they be sentenced to death .

The four part series was inspired by one of the actual men wrongfully convicted in a tweet sent to her in 2015 that said  “what’s your next film gonna be on?? #thecentralparkfive #cp5 #centralpark5 maybe???? #wishfulthinking #fingerscrossed.”  She receives many tweets, and she said this one stayed with her and she replied in a DM making arrangements to meet up for conversation about a suggestion that four years later turned into When They See Us.   

A 2012 documentary called The Central Park Five  also explores the wrongful conviction, but DuVernay says “there was more story to tell.”

“It was expansive to me,” she says. “It was a famous case that allowed me to interrogate all the different parts of the criminal justice system.” She sees this miniseries as a “companion piece” to her documentary  13th , which draws a line between slavery and mass incarceration.

DuVernay said “The city never apologized; they settled. No one on the side of the prosecution ever apologized. They’ve stuck by the fact that even though the real man Matias Reyes (who’s DNA was a match) came out and said: I did it, I did it alone. Even though all of that physical evidence was from him, was matched to the victim, and it was in fact him, and only him, these people still refuse to acknowledge that they — not made a mistake — lied. Lied.” 

Watch When They See Us on Netflix