When They See Us is a Netflix miniseries created & directed by Ava DuVerney. It’s based on the true events of 2 criminal court cases surrounding the Central Park 5. It follows a group of Harlem teens wrongfully accused & convicted of rape and assault of a white woman in Central Park in 1989/90.
First off, I am going to say that these episodes are not for the faint of heart… Not because its brutality is based on a true story but because in the decades since the trial, not much has changed between law enforcement and Black Americans. It’s a frightening reality for Black Americans. I love horror, writing about horror, watching horror and I pretty much live for it but this was perhaps the scariest thing I’ve seen on TV all year without any gore or jump scares.
I vaguely can recall the events on the news back then when these 5 men were finally exonerated although I don’t have much recollection of the actual events. I was about 8/9 when the actual case went down. Yet what now floods my mind is that this could be my nephews, cousins, brother, or any other male relative.
I watched all four episodes the other night until the end and simply put, it was incredible. It shed light on a case that many have either never heard of or simply forgot about. I binged it in 1 night until dawn… so much that I couldn’t tell if my eyes burned from tears or sleepiness. What those youths went through was so heartbreaking, that it makes me truly afraid to have a son.
Although this review gives away some plot details, I will not issue a spoiler alert as the series are based on actual events. The events are also explained in detail in the documentary, The Central Park Five, released in 2012, which I highly recommend.
The series begins with several Harlem teenage boys running throughout Central Park roughhousing and well being teenagers. While some of The Motley Crew of kids were laughing, talking and jamming to some tunes, others were being your typical obnoxious tough guys that happened to be terrorizing other park inhabitants. Although some of the roughly 30 Harlem kids were having fun, some were actually assaulting people with victims robbed and left unconscious as groups made their way South through the park.
Once the police are called on the scene after the “wildin’ out” shenanigans, an unconscious jogger is soon discovered, it is here where the focus of the story begins.
Five kids were apprehended, Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson were brought in 1st followed by Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise afterwards. Stripped of their rights and unknowingly forced to wrongfully confess to the crime of rape. Their confessions riddled with plot holes as each teen finger-pointed each other despite not knowing one another. I sat there with knots in my stomach as these kids are beaten, deprived of sleep or seeing their families for hours.
The film goes on to follow their trial and inevitable conviction down to their release as adults. You see a witch hunt further antagonized by Donald Trump, a then real estate tycoon at the time who called for the death penalty and has since yet to retract his feelings on the case. You even feel a bit of hope as you see their legal team work the trial but to no avail.
Following their release, we are briefly shown four of the five attempts at transitioning into society with the harshness of sexual predator haunting their very existence.
The saddest part being the story of Corey Wise, the one teen who willingly decided to go to the police station along with his friend. He is held for days, his inability to read is used against him and because he is 16 and older than the other 4, he is sent to Riker’s prison with the adult population. Transferred from prison to prison, he is beaten and stabbed by other inmates. The torture endured forces him to be placed in solitary confinement. Of the five his sentence is the longest and perhaps the saddest of all.
Eventually the true criminal confesses and their verdicts are overturned shortly before suing the state of NY. With the truth exposed to a generation online, it even led to the boycotting of Linda Fairstein.
What makes this series great was the sense dread these boys and their families felt. The tension and struggle surrounding their families is paramount and portrayed by impeccable acting.
My only gripe is that the sense of fear should have been angled on both sides. At that time there was a serial rapist on the loose and it did plague the city, which put the police and officials on a frenzy. We really don’t get to see the fear plaguing the city as a result of the rapes or that of the main victim who remained comatose throughout most of the story. But the central focus is from the boys POV from the crime and trials going forward. It is this focus that barely takes away from who these kids were before the conviction. We don’t get to see much of their lives beforehand save a few interactions. Yet it is brilliantly shot frame for frame.
There are very minor things to pick at but everything else is well shot. Looking back at the images of the actual people against the actors who portray them, I say that casting was awesome. Lastly, if you were around back then, the soundtrack sets the mood of each year within the series well.
When They See Us is a poignant example turning tragedy into triumph & why our own courageous hope has always been our strongest weapon.
My vote: It’s Awesome
Til Later Kiddies,
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