Since the show’s release on May 31, 2019, When They See Us has been “Netflix’s most-watched program,” and has been “viewed by more than 23 million accounts worldwide at the time of publication,” according to the Washington Post.
Director, writer, and producer Ava DuVernay re-tells the powerful and captivating true story of the Central Park Five, to remind and reveal to viewers the mistreatment and injustice in the judicial system.
“The show really highlighted all the cruel, sad flaws of the judicial system and the poor treatment towards minors and the accused,” said sophomore Kayla Santiesteban.
The first scene takes place in Harlem, New York in April 1989, where five teenage boys join a larger group of boys towards Central Park. Later that night, a white female jogging in the park would be found by police violently abused, raped, and left to die in a ravine.
The five boys would later become suspects wrongfully accused for the rape of Trisha Meili, despite the lack of eyewitness accounts or DNA evidence.
The lives of Raymond Santana Jr. (portrayed by Marquis Rodriguez), Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk), Antron McCray (Caleel Harris), Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse), and Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome), would never be the same.
Freshman Nicholas Alcorn expresses how “each episode would just crush you. Being african american, this show really spoke to me to see the harsh injustice towards boys who were practically my age.”
He adds his disbelief of how kids his age were able to endure the series of events. Alcorn wasn’t the only one who learned what the men’s situation was like. The young actors on the show were able to meet and talk about the men’s experiences firsthand.
In an interview with GQ, Jharrel Jerome expresses how he felt when meeting Korey Wise, the man he was playing in the film. “I had so many nerves just meeting these guys. Just knowing the responsibility that we have to play these men. Everything was so delicate you could hear a pin drop.”
Connecting with the men was a huge step for the actors to be able to experience and contribute to the film.
DuVernay tells BlackFilm of the bond the actors formed with the men. “They spent a lot of time with them beyond the set, not only to observe but get a sense of their essence.”
It was important for the actors to be able to fully grasp and embody what the men were like as kids again, and that’s exactly what they did. The director adds, “They all took it seriously and rose to the occasion.”
The efforts of the production was not just to honor and accurately share the Central Park Five’s historic experiences, but to shed light on the greater issue at hand⸺ the flawed judicial system and law enforcement.
Through the title When They See Us, DuVernay challenges viewers asking “will you see all of the boys and girls and men and women who are black or brown, who are unseen or who are seen through the lens of criminality?” (Rolling Stone).
Will viewers stop watching when the screen goes black and the binge is over? Or will they continue to keep watching the seasons of our society, and peer past the criminal forefront to see the accused for who they really are.