Ava DuVernay has done it again. She told the truth. This time, the truth was delivered in a Netflix miniseries titled, When They See Us. The series tells the tragic story of 5 black and brown boys getting unjustly trapped in the criminal justice system. Their names and ages at the time of arrest were Raymond Santana (14), Kevin Richardson (14), Antron McCray (15), Yusef Salaam (15) and Korey Wise (Kharey Wise) (16). The boys were formally convicted in 1990 of raping a white female jogger, a crime they didn’t commit. Another tragedy is that these young boys were convicted in the court of public opinion that was driven by a crooked criminal justice system but more disgustingly, driven by the Media’s irresponsibility. That irresponsibility led to the moniker of “The Central Park Five” which played directly into the erasure of these young boys’ humanity and identities. What DuVernay accomplishes with When They See Us, is just that; seeing them. The series is a small step towards giving them their voices back so that they are empowered to tell their truths. Another truth is that the boys are treated so inhumanely that it is hard to watch. Though it may be difficult to watch, it is important to see them because not only do their stories’ matter, their lives matter.
The series is beautifully shot and all of the actors do an exceptional job of portraying these real individuals. The actors that portrayed the young boys include Caleel Harris, Asante Blackk, Marquis Rodriguez, Ethan Herisse, and Jharrel Jerome. The actors that portrayed the adult versions of the now men include Jovan Adepo, Chris Chalk, Justin Cunningham, Freddy Miyares, and Jharrel Jerome. Yes, you read that right. Jharrel Jerome played both the child and adult version of his character Korey Wise and he did it brilliantly. His performance is captivating and heartbreaking as he navigates the horrors that Wise endured having been charged as an adult at the age of 16. This is not the first time Jerome has flexed his acting chops. Just a few years back he was a notable cast member of the Oscar Award Winning Film, Moonlight. His gift of storytelling is undeniable and he is only 21 years old.
While this group of men were exonerated in 2002 after the real rapist confessed to the crime, it doesn’t rectify the hurt and time lost. They trusted DuVernay to tell their harrowing story of the insidiousness that exists in the criminal “justice” system. Duvernay delivered. This tragic story is one of many stories that may never get told. It is imperative that their voices, Korey, Yusef, Antron, Kevin, and Raymond, are listened to, so at some point, the wheel of injustice can be broken.
When They See Us is out now and available to stream on Netflix.