“When They See Us,” premiering Friday on Netflix, “assembles the right team and right performers with the unequivocating intent to correct an important story that many people still get wrong,” says the Washington Post in a preview. Producer, director and screenwriter Ava DuVernay takes on the injustice of what happened to the Central Park Five — four African American men and one Hispanic who, as teenagers, were rounded up, taken to a police precinct office and coerced into saying they brutally assaulted and raped a white woman who was jogging in Central Park in 1989. There was never any physical evidence that they did. The boys, ranging in age from 14 to 16, confessed after many hours of coercion, intimidation and threats from detectives.
In media coverage, the boys were compared to savages who took part in a “wilding” crime rampage. Donald Trump took out newspaper ads to demand their execution. The boys — Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Antron McCray — were found guilty on some of the charges in a 1990 trial. They spent between six and 13 years in detention centers and prisons. The jogger’s true attacker confessed in 2002, and his DNA matched the physical evidence. A court vacated the Central Park Five’s sentences. The five men sued the city and reached a $41 million settlement in 2014. Split into four episodes, DuVernay’s approach “bluntly but successfully turns this story inside-out, borrowing the look of true-crime dramas while discarding the genre’s usual tropes, the Post says. It focuses primarily on the boys, their families and the irreparable effects of their jailing. As the title suggests, it’s all about how they were seen, and, by extension, how most minority teenage boys are still often seen, not as young citizens, but as potential thugs.