‘When They See Us’ tells the important story of the Central Park Five. Here’s what it leaves out.Breaking News
tags: Stonewall, LGBTQ
There were more than 30 teenagers in New York’s Central Park on the night Trisha Meili was raped. Some in the group brutalized whoever crossed their paths, choosing at random people to rob and to attack. They used stones, metal pipes, their fists and their feet. They left people bruised, bloody or unconscious.
The prosecution involved at least eight victims and 12 arrests. Yet its retelling — in headlines and in film — has taken what happened on April 19, 1989, and boiled it down to the Central Park Five and the Central Park jogger.
“When They See Us,” a series based on the story of the Central Park Five, written and produced by Ava DuVernay, has been Netflix’s most-watched program since its May 31 release, viewed by more than 23 million accounts worldwide at the time of publication. The four-part drama focuses on the mistreatment of five juveniles by the justice system.
The show’s success highlights the genre’s power to shape public perception. But if the series is a viewer’s first or only exposure to the Central Park case, parts of what happened that night are missing.
Kharey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray, the men widely known as the Central Park Five, were prosecuted for what Georgetown Law professor and former federal prosecutor Paul Butler called “the ultimate crime in the American imagery:” a black man sexually assaulting a white woman.
They suffered the consequences of their convictions for years before newly discovered evidence led prosecutors to vacate their convictions; in 2002, Matias Reyes confessed to, and took sole responsibility for, the rape of Meili. The unknown DNA profile, discussed by prosecution at trial, was a match to Reyes.
Disputing minor details or mentioning omissions may seem hypercritical when viewing the series in its entirety. Yet they’re some of its most provocative and, correspondingly, memorable moments.
If the responsibility to differentiate between a fictional and factual account falls on the audience, it must consider that while what it’s viewing may be based on a true story, there is probably more to the story.