It has been more than a week since Netflix’s latest original ‘When They See Us’ released, and I’m yet to shake off the melancholy with which the series left me. The series follows the events of the Central Park Jogger Case of 1989 which resulted in the wrongful incarceration of five young men from Harlem. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, who has received great acclaim for her outstanding achievement with the series, the grim reality presented to us in this harrowing four-part miniseries is as contemporaneous as it was back in the ’80s.
The series unravels at a pace that is intense yet steady and gradual. Five young boys – Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise – living their lives with the kind of nonchalance that one would associate with high-school-going teenagers are off “wilding” in Central Park. Until all of a sudden, they are thrown into the violence of a cold and abusive New York City Precinct.
What ensues is the mistreatment and gruelling interrogation at the hands of a predominantly Caucasian team of police and attorneys given to notorious racial prejudice. Conclusions are hastily drawn of the culpability of the crimes committed at Central Park. The series succeeds in juxtaposing the value of a white woman’s life with those of hapless African-American and Hispanic teenagers in the eyes of a skewed justice system. The overhanging gloom that stalks the lives of these men upon their discharge calls attention to the extreme hardships ex-convicts face under State stipulation. We finally breathe a sigh of relief when after 13 years of trial and tribulation, the five are exonerated of all crimes and amply compensated.
To acknowledge the brilliance of the cast ensemble, one would have to list the names of practically the entire crew! However, Jharell Jherome’s outstanding depiction of life in an American penitentiary as Korey Wise, deserves special mention. And, indeed, no piece of filmmaking concerning race-based brutalities is complete without a cameo from our own friendly neighbourhood Orange Bigot.
The underlying theme of truth and justice under the most trying circumstances is what makes this series so powerful and so deeply impacting; its ability to shine the spotlight on white supremacy and ethnic stereotyping in all its forms and manifestations is commendable. The show offers some fine perspectives into the lives of the five protagonists and some of its superbly shot scenes will move the stoniest of hearts. The handpicked songs for the series compliment each episode to perfection, also featuring one by the late Nipsey Hussle as a brief tribute.
The racial and cultural divide that had torn apart the American subcontinent gave way to a slew of injustices carried out against men and women, and in this particular instance, to adolescents of colour. This beautiful and poignant take on the story behind the Central Park Five is an eloquent exposé on the failure of the American Justice System – a show that is sure to be a frontrunner at the awards season this year.