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Series Review | When They See Us

The Tragedy of the Central Park Five Gets Told Masterfully

Film Director Ava DuVernay hasn’t been shy to produce films that “shake the boundaries” of what cinema can portray. With critically acclaimed projects such as 13th, Queen Sugar, Selma, A Wrinkle In Time, and many more projects that have been critically acclaimed, she was bound to do what some fans felt was missing from her catalog of excellent cinema– a retelling of a famous civil rights case. What she has done with the new Netflix mini series When They See Us has not only told the stories of five men who’ve been in jail since they were boys for a crime they didn’t commit, but she picked a cast that made us feel the raw emotions of what each member of the “Central Park Five” was going through. 

The five fresh-faced young actors absolutely nailed the roles as the men of the Central Park 5. Add in a oscar worthy performances from Felicity Huffman as the evil and tyrannical prosecutor Linda Fairstein and Michael K. Williams as the father of Antron McCray. Great pacing between events occuring in each episodes, the innocence of the five, fantastic music, great costumes, and a astounding nostalgic feelings breathes life into how a retelling of tragic events can be produced. With all of these elements on another level, the real seller of this series is the amazing retelling of the events through multiple episodes. 

Meet the five young men whp portrayed the Central Park 5: (left to right: Asante Black as Kevin Richardson, Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise, Caleel Harris as Antron McCray, Ethan Herisse as Yusef Salaam, and Marquis Rodriguez as Raymond Santana Jr. | Photo Via Youtube 
Meet the real life Central Park 5: Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam | Photo via Oxygen

We not only got to see their story portrayed by the incredible cast but we got another perspective of their personalities. The Central Park Five versus the media was the main conflict which was highlighted in multiple different ways throughout the episodes. The stereotypes media outlets placed on the five boys going through the false allegations was heartbreaking to see. They were labeled monsters with no evidence and without hearing their side of the story. When They See Us is unique because it takes this narrative and shows us how media sources showcased systemic racism which occured back then and occurs today in a entertaining but frightening way. 

Ava doesn’t shy away from coming up with a script and dialogue that conveys the message of the overall justice system. From innocent black children being called animals, parents being coerced into confessions, black children being lined up all of New York, and many more aspects of systemic racism which is portrayed in a way that all races and ethnicities can see it and feel like it’s wrong. Some of the most powerful and heartbreaking scenes came from the horrendous interrogations that each child went through. To see the methods that police officers, and attorneys used to coerce innocent African American children into false admissions was painful to watch. The final verdict court scenes was some of the most tear inducing, and powerful acting I have ever scene in any cinematic project.  

Photo via Black Girl Nerds

The message of change needing to occured asap in the justice system is delivered flawlessly by When They See Us and DuVernay makes a horrific truth the main subject throughout the world in brilliant fashion. I understand if people do not want to see another story of African American trauma, and might want to write this series off to save their mental sanity. That’s totally okay, however, the impact this series is having on mainstream America for change to occur and not just spoken about. Fairstein is already being forced to resign and is being called to be incarcerated. DuVernay’s goal of humanizing African American man and boys was extremely successful. It’s worthy of an oscar. Just a warning, it will bring painful feelings of anger so please be wary before you watch. 

Final Take 10/10

  • Great acting
  • Amazing black children was successful 
  • Perfect recapturing of the era
  • Powerful message 
  • Brilliant writing 
  • Ava DuVernay, that’s it. 

For More Background of The Central Park Five check out this video below 

June 6, 2019

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