When They See Us
When They See Us is a 2019 American drama web television miniseries created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, that premiered in four parts on May 31, 2019. It is based on events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five male suspects who were falsely accused then prosecuted on charges related to the rape and assault of a woman in Central Park, New York City. The series features an ensemble cast, including Jharrel Jerome, Asante Blackk, Jovan Adepo, Michael K. Williams, Logan Marshall-Green, Joshua Jackson, Blair Underwood, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Marsha Stephanie Blake, and Kylie Bunbury.
|When They See Us|
|Created by||Ava DuVernay|
|Directed by||Ava DuVernay|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||4 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||64–88 minutes|
|Picture format||4K (16:9 UHDTV in high dynamic range)|
|Audio format||Dolby Digital|
|Original release||May 31, 2019|
When They See Us received acclaim for its performances and casting. At the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, it received 11 nominations; Jerome won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie while it was nominated for Outstanding Limited Series and Ellis, Nash, Blackk, Leguizamo, Williams, Blake, and Farmiga all received acting nominations.
A companion special, titled Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now, in which the cast, the creator, and the exonerated five are interviewed, premiered on June 12, 2019, on Netflix and the Oprah Winfrey Network.
When They See Us is based on events of the April 19, 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives of the five suspects who were prosecuted on charges related to the sexual assault of a female victim, and of their families. The five juvenile males of color, the protagonists of the series: Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk), Antron McCray (Caleel Harris), Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse), Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome), and Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez), were divided by the prosecutor into two groups for trial. Each youth was convicted by juries of various charges related to the assault; four were convicted of rape. They were sentenced to maximum terms for juveniles except for Korey Wise, who was 16 at the time of the crime and treated as an adult by the legal system. He had been held in adult facilities and served his time in adult prison.
Cast and characters
- Asante Blackk as Kevin Richardson
- Justin Cunningham as adult Kevin Richardson
- Caleel Harris as Antron McCray
- Jovan Adepo as adult Antron McCray
- Ethan Herisse as Yusef Salaam
- Chris Chalk as adult Yusef Salaam
- Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise
- Marquis Rodriguez as Raymond Santana
- Freddy Miyares as adult Raymond Santana
- Marsha Stephanie Blake as Linda McCray, Antron McCray's mother.
- Kylie Bunbury as Angie Richardson, an older sister of Kevin Richardson.
- Aunjanue Ellis as Sharonne Salaam, Yusef Salaam's mother.
- Vera Farmiga as Elizabeth Lederer
- Felicity Huffman as Linda Fairstein
- John Leguizamo as Raymond Santana Sr., Raymond Santana's father.
- Niecy Nash as Delores Wise, Korey Wise's mother.
- Michael K. Williams as Bobby McCray, Antron McCray's father.
- Omar Dorsey as Elombe Brath, a community organizer and activist who appears in the media to defend the five
- Suzzanne Douglas as Grace Cuffe
- Christopher Jackson as Peter Rivera, lawyer who represented Raymond
- Joshua Jackson as Mickey Joseph, lawyer who defended Antron
- Famke Janssen as Nancy Ryan, a Manhattan ADA originally assigned to the case before it was given to Lederer and later oversaw the overturning of the five's convictions
- Adepero Oduye as Nomsa Brath, a community organizer and activist who takes on her husband Elombe's cause after his death
- Aurora Perrineau as Tanya, girlfriend of Raymond Santana Jr (adult)
- Storm Reid as Lisa, girlfriend of Korey Wise
- William Sadler as Michael Sheehan
- Blair Underwood as Bobby Burns, lawyer who represented Yusef
- Len Cariou as Robert Morgenthau
- Chikwudi Iwuji as Colin Moore, lawyer who represented Korey
- Frank Pando as Detective Gonzalez
- Alexandra Templer as Trisha Meili
- Jayce Bartok as Detective Hildebrandt
- Dascha Polanco as Elena, new wife of Raymond Santana Sr.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original release date|
|1||"Part One"||Ava DuVernay||Teleplay by : Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece and Robin Swicord |
Story by : Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece
|May 31, 2019|
|Five adolescents (Raymond, Kevin, Korey, Yusef, and Antron) are shown in their comfortable, familiar residential neighborhood of Harlem, bantering with each other and playing. They are picked up by police in a sweep of the park after several assaults against other users that night, but it is not until later that the injured jogger is found, and pressure increases.|
|2||"Part Two"||Ava DuVernay||Teleplay by : Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece and Attica Locke |
Story by : Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece
|May 31, 2019|
|The New York City police are shown exerting pressure on the five youths to confess, setting them against one another, talking to them without parents or counsel present, and struggling with evidence. The brutal assault of the jogger has increased pressure on the police to solve the crime and on the prosecutor to take it to trial and gain convictions. Suggestions are made that the timelines, conflicting accounts, and lack of substantive evidence do not support the case, but the juries convict each of the youths of most charges.|
|3||"Part Three"||Ava DuVernay||Teleplay by : Ava DuVernay and Robin Swicord |
Story by : Ava DuVernay
|May 31, 2019|
|Antron, Yusef, Kevin, and Raymond struggle with being in prison. They eventually are released after serving time and have difficulty adjusting to life outside.|
|4||"Part Four"||Ava DuVernay||Teleplay by : Ava DuVernay & Michael Starrbury |
Story by : Ava DuVernay
|May 31, 2019|
|Korey is in adult prison and has the most difficult experiences, choosing the difficulty of isolation cells over repeated assaults by others. In 2002 the assailant confesses, his DNA matches the evidence, and other evidence fits his account. The convictions of the five are vacated. They file a suit against the city, for which they receive a settlement in 2014. Their later lives, detailing marriages, work, social justice activism, and other activities, are summarized. Four of the five move away from the city to make their lives elsewhere.|
|Title||Directed by||Original release date|
|"Oprah Winfrey Presents: When They See Us Now"||Mark Ritchie||June 12, 2019|
|Oprah Winfrey interviews the main cast and executive producers of When They See Us, and the exonerated five.|
On July 6, 2017, it was announced that Netflix had given the production Central Park Five a series order consisting of five episodes. The series was created by Ava DuVernay who was also set to write and direct. Executive producers were expected to include DuVernay, Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Rosenthal and Berry Welsh. Production companies involved with the series were set to include Participant Media, Harpo Films, and Tribeca Productions. On July 9, 2018, it was reported that the series would consist of four episodes, Bradford Young would serve as the series' cinematographer, and Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, and Michael Starrbury would cowrite each episode with DuVernay.
In July 2018, it was announced that Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Jharrel Jerome, and Jovan Adepo had joined the series' main cast. On August 3, 2018, it was reported that Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Kylie Bunbury, Marsha Stephanie Blake, and Storm Reid had been cast in supporting roles. A week later, it was announced that Chris Chalk, Ethan Herisse, Marquis Rodriguez, Caleel Harris, Freddy Miyares, Justin Cunningham and Asante Blackk had filled out the main cast, both as adults and as teenagers. By the end of the month, it was reported that Joshua Jackson, Christopher Jackson, Adepero Oduye, Omar Dorsey, Blair Underwood, Famke Janssen, William Sadler, and Aurora Perrineau had also joined the cast.
The miniseries received critical acclaim upon its release. The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 95% based on 57 reviews, with an average rating of 8.34/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Ava DuVernay pulls no punches in When They See Us, laying out the harrowing events endured by the Central Park Five while adding a necessary layer of humanity to their story that challenges viewers to reconsider what it means to find justice in America." On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 87 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."
Daniel D'Addario from Variety mentioned in a glowing review of the miniseries, that "When They See Us immerses viewers in a tale with none of the gaudy fun that true crime often offers. It’s an achievement and, given its pride of place on a streaming service despite its difficult subject matter, a worthy use of its director’s star power." Roger Ebert's Odie Henderson awarded the series a rating of 3 and 1/2 out of four stars, noting that "there’s a lot to recommend When They See Us. It does as much as it can to recast the gaze on Black and brown people, eliciting empathy and the desire for justice. It demonizes the right people and demands your fury over the events presented." Daniel Fienberg from The Hollywood Reporter recommended the miniseries in his review by highlighting that "When They See Us is a rigorous attempt to chronicle an epic legal failure and to help restore a sense of the men as individuals, rather than faceless members of a wrongfully accused collective." Commending DuVernay's thematic and thoughtful approach to the subject matter and content, he adds that the series avoids the "typical triumph-over-adversity narrative tropes".
Matt Goldberg of Collider gave it a very positive review, writing: "The emotional impact of When They See Us cannot be understated." He said further, "I watched The Central Park Five earlier this month, and it’s a good way to understand the case and its basic facts, but even though [it] has interviews with all five men, it doesn’t come close to what DuVernay does here with this cast, her craftsmanship, and Bradford Young’s stunning cinematography." Lucy Mangan from The Guardian complimented the miniseries, saying it is
[A] dense, fast-moving series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement (though you could argue they all have that same root cause) on people with the boys’ background. The lack of money that leads to inadequate lawyers and mothers unable to visit their sons incarcerated in distant places. The lifetime of fear and vulnerability that causes one parent to encourage his son to sign the confession so they can leave the station and sort things out later. The powerlessness in the face of an authority that doesn’t look like you or care about you.<
In a positive review of the miniseries, Jen Chaney from Vulture wrote that, "When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s sensitively wrought Netflix miniseries about what happened to those boys, strips away the dehumanizing tendency to bunch them together and instead shows what each of them dealt with individually when they were coerced into giving false confessions, forced to do time for a crime they did not commit, and, eventually, exonerated when their convictions were vacated in 2002."
Willa Paskin of Slate gave the series a positive recommendation, writing that "When They See Us may be making an appeal to our duty to attend to this not-at-all-ancient history—but is not, itself, dutiful. In one aspect, in particular, DuVernay’s approach is refreshingly unencumbered." Robert Lloyd from Los Angeles Times praised the series, stating that it is "a story about parents and children as much as it is about justice and race — the series has plenty of contemporary resonance on the latter account — and there is strong work from Niecy Nash, John Leguizamo, Aunjanue Ellis and Michael Kenneth Williams among the older generation."
Linda Fairstein, the original New York prosecutor of the case, wrote of the Netflix series in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that it was "so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication." The lawyer-turned-New York Times bestselling author said she agreed with exonerations of the rape charges against the five — but said “the other charges, for crimes against other victims, should not have been vacated.” Armond White from National Review criticized the series in his review, unfavorably contrasting its portrayal of racial tension and violence to period films like Boyz n the Hood and Do the Right Thing.
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