This miniseries has created an uproar in many activists, Netflix bingers, people of color and more. Some people don’t really know why.
After watching the four-episode miniseries I can tell you it is because it is the most honest, raw and powerful miniseries I have seen to date on the streaming service. “When They See Us” is a dramatized account of how five young men came to be arrested, convicted, sentenced and then exonerated for the rape and abuse of Trisha Meili, also known as “the Central Park jogger.” They were called “the Central Park Five,” and the trial became one of the most popular trials of the late ’80s.
The miniseries begins chronicling the lives of the Central Park Five in the first episode by showing what it was like growing up as each young man. It was clear that the film’s intention was to make these boys appear just as what they were at the time — boys.
Then came that fateful night in Central Park. Each boy followed groups of young men to Central Park where riots began. They had no idea what was going to be happening in the park that evening and they especially never harmed anybody. As police came to disperse the crowd, countless juveniles were taken to the police station. When this scene began I felt a bit anxious, but my anxiety turned into anger as a police officer punched Kevin Richardson out cold.
A quick cut to the police station occurs and once we are here, audiences see youth was interrupted for the five boys, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Korey Wise. Linda Fairstein, head of the sex crimes unit, was desperate for a logical narrative to make a name for herself. She began to encourage the police force and herself that these particular boys were the suspects to blame for Meili’s attack. She claims in the series that it only makes sense that these riots, these boys and Meili are somehow linked.
To this, I screamed internally, “Bullshit!”
Fairstein began doing anything in her power to make these young boys perfect suspects for the crime they did not commit. After countless hours of brutal and illegal interrogation of five young men, coerced confessions, failed DNA evidence and a jury trial, all the boys received prison sentences spanning between 6-14 years.
The scene that most notably broke my heart is when all the young boys are held overnight in a cell and Kevin begins by saying, “I lied on you man,” and the other boys following suit and confessing to each other that they lied to try to save themselves.
“Why are they doing us like this?” asked Kevin with Raymond responding, “What other way do they ever do us?”
The rest of the series concentrates on the five men as they overcome the obstacles of being a juvenile inmate and restarting life as convicted felons and sex offenders. These obstacles include being unable to have successful romantic relationships, desired careers and torn familial dynamics. The series ends with a confession from the real rapist and a tearful exoneration and celebration of the men in 2002.
It was hard to watch the ending without still feeling resentment. Yes, we should all be thankful these men made it out alive and now have a large settlement thanks to the state of New York, but at what cost?
The reason I write about this fast-paced and gut-wrenching series is that it made me feel something. It made me want to take action. It made me think.
I for one believe there needs to be some sort of social justice in America, especially for people of color. I am a white woman, with white privilege and I know that something like this would have never happened to me or a group of white boys from my city.
This series examines the systematic racism in the justice system and in society. White people throughout space and time are consistently mistreating people of color and setting them up for failure in order to retain control. White America is constantly oppressing people of color socially and economically and this statement is implied explicitly and implicitly throughout the series.
These boys were initially judged by the color of their skin. They looked like the perfect suspects, the perfect “criminals.” Onwards, they were continuously put at a disadvantage by the white justice system they were prosecuted by, thanks to the lack of money and resources in their underrepresented communities.
Not only that, but they grew up knowing that something like this could happen to them by nothing more than the pigment of their skin. They were put against each other during interrogations because the authority knew they would be vulnerable and try to fend for themselves.
The plot line, the themes and most importantly the performances from all the actors are incredible. The attention to detail, the impeccable empathy and the narrative Ava DuVernay and the rest of her team created deserves recognition. This real-life story captures so many emotions and feelings, starting from innocence, to loss, to anger and vulnerability.
I was horrified and hopeful until the end of this miniseries.
Horrified at the mistreatment of people of color that continues to this day and hopeful that this is a call to action at it’s finest. DuVernay is not starting a conversation, she is a catalyst for action. I hope after watching her miniseries, you start stepping up and taking action too.
“It is not a moment, it is a movement.”