This compelling four-part mini-series tells the harrowing story of the wrongful conviction of five young black children in Central Park, New York in 1989. The case became known as the “Central Park jogger case”. The five teenagers who ranged from 14 years to 16 years were coerced by the police authorities to confess to the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, a white woman who was attacked while jogging in the park. The series takes a closer look into what The New York Times called “The most widely-publicised crimes of the 1980s”, highlighting the issue of racial prejudice and discrimination in the US Criminal Justice system.
Co-writer and director Ava DuVernay does a stellar job of resurrecting and telling the stories of Kevin Richardson, Antron McCay, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana. Not only does she shed light on their cases and wrongful conviction but brings to life the way they were violently ripped from their families and childhoods. One comes face to face with the trauma they suffered in prison as well as the life-altering effects of the prison system, particularly on the lives of black men and their families.
The series has received much acclaim, not only for its subject matter but also for its casting and performances. Some members of the cast include, Jharrel Jerome, Michael K. Williams, Logan Marshall-Green, Joshua Jackson, Blair Underwood, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, and Kylie Bunbury. Jharell Jerome delivers a particularly powerful, tear-jerking performance as Korey Wise, invoking the emotional, physical and psychological trauma experienced in prison. Wise served 11.5 years and as the only one of the five who was 16 at the time, did so in adult prison.
Amidst growing racial tensions and violent attacks on the lives of African Americans, the series has provoked many conversations as the public engages with a story that is a familiar one in many black communities and homes.
Though it is a difficult story to confront, it is an important one that we should all watch as now more than ever do we need to engage the reality and effects of deeply rooted systems of discrimination and injustice.
You can catch the series When They See Us and follow the real story of The Central Park Five on Netflix.