‘When They See Us‘ is an American drama television series that airs on Netflix. It’s created by Ava DuVernay who also directs all the episodes. DuVernay is known for her hard-hitting films and documentaries. Her last documentary, ’13th’, is a study of the intersection of justice, race, and mass incarceration in the USA, where DuVernay contends that after the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution abolished slavery, some practices perpetuated the tenets of slavery by criminalizing certain behavior, suppressing the disenfranchisement of black people, amongst other things.
Considering the politically charged content DuVernay is used to handling and the significance of her voice, the subject matter of ‘When They See Us’ is right up her alley. The show centers around the famous case from the 1980s that came to be known as the Central Park jogger case where a jogger was raped and beaten brutally, and those accused were labeled the Central Park Five. The New York Times labeled it as one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s, and the accused included four African Americans, and one Hispanic. The series covers their wrongful conviction, imprisonment, release, and subsequent settlement that they won after suing New York City.
Ava DuVernay, Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Rosenthal, and Berry Welsh are on board as the executive producers of the show, and the main filming took place in New York City, particularly on Madison Avenue which is the East Harlem area of Manhattan.
When They See Us Cast: Who is in it?
The main characters of ‘When They See Us’ are the Central Park Five “accused”, the jogger who was the victim of a horrific crime, and the people involved in the persecution of these boys. The five accused were Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, and Raymond Santana. Jovan Adepo who is known for his role in Denzel Washington‘s ‘Fences’ plays the part of Anton McCray, Korey Wise is played by Jharrell Jerome of ‘Moonlight‘ fame, Chris Chalk stars as Yusef Salaam, Asante Blackk plays Justin Cunningham, and Freddy Miyares appears in the role of Raymond Santana. Apart from this, the cast consists of a host of talented names like Vera Farmiga, Joshua Jackson, Blair Underwood, and John Leguizamo.
When They See Us Plot: What is it about?
The plot of ‘When They See Us‘ centers around the aftermath of a brutal crime that came to be known as the Central Park Jogger case, and those initially accused of the crime came to be known as the Central Park Five. In the 1980s, on the night of the crime, Central Park witnessed a group of youths who assaulted people and carried out acts of vandalism as part of some gang activity. The worst of these cases was Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker who was out jogging. She was brutally raped and beaten, to the extent that it was believed she would die. Surprisingly, this bold survivor beat the odds and recovered. However, the crime against her sparked outrage and five youths, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, and Raymond Santana were arrested. The show chronicles what happened to them.
The youths initially protested their innocence, but the police at that time did not question them by the book. This miscarriage of justice is a definitive moment in the fractured race relations that plagued New York back then. The police coerced a confession out of them, and Salaam recalls, “I would hear them beating up Korey Wise in the next room. They would come and look at me and say: ‘You realize you’re next.’ The fear made me feel really like I was not going to be able to make it out.”
The boys ultimately confessed on video, without a lawyer, that they had not been part of the crime, but had witnessed the other four do it. By extension, they were all implicated. What should have been a shoddy job of investigation drove the city to a furor, and why not, when everyone was eager to believe that four blacks and a Hispanic had violently brutalized a white woman. The media had already painted them as the villains, and the confession was just the final nail in their coffin. They spent years in prison, till Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist and murdered, came forward in 2002, claiming responsibility for the horrible act. Since he was already serving a life sentence, and the statute of limitations on the crime had passed, he was not tried for this case.
However, it was clear he had acted alone since DNA evidence pointed at that, and he knew details of the crime which only the offender could have known. Once out of prison, these men, understandably, sued New York City on grounds of racial discrimination, malicious prosecution as well as emotional distress. The case was settled in 2014, with them getting a sum of $41 million. The series attempts to show the boys for who they really are, and not what the public perceived them to be as the show chronicles a 25-year span, from the time of the accusation to their fight for innocence.
The docu-series holds special significance in the times Donald Trump is US President. For those unaware, Trump was one of the most vocal protestors against these boys, saying “I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence”. He reportedly also paid $85,000 to take up advertising space in four newspapers including The New York Times, asking to bring back the tough policing, and the death penalty. Ironically, The New York Times ran an opinion piece in 2016, stating how Trump owed these kids an apology but had not wavered in his stance. In fact, he said, “They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”
Above everything else When They See Us throws light on dangers of alienating, and jumping to conclusions based on skin color. DuVernay has not been one to shy away from tough subject matters, and she isn’t pulling back any punches here, either. She raises the question about whether the USA wishes to follow such divisive and hate-mongering politics in the first place, by drawing on a historical landmark incident.
When They See Us Season 2 Release Date: When will it premiere?
‘When They See Us’ Season 1 is premiered on Netflix on May 31, 2019. As far as the next season goes, despite the universal praise the show has received it might not see another season. The reason being the show was conceived as a mini-series. Though, there have been shows in the past that were conceived as mini-series but ended up having multiple seasons. What works against a second season of When They See Us is that the first season is complete in itself and there’s not much left to be said. In any case, weirder things have happened in the world of television and if the show is miraculosly renewed, we will let you know about the ‘When They See Us’ Season 2 release date.
When They See Us Trailer:
Watch below the powerful trailer of ‘When They See Us’ season 1.
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