When They See Us (TV Mini-Series 2019)

TVSeries


When They See Us (TV Series 2019–2019)

In 1989, a jogger was assaulted and raped in New York's Central Park, and five young people were subsequently charged with the crime. The quintet, labeled the Central Park Five, maintained its innocence and spent years fighting the convictions, hoping to be exonerated. This limited series spans a quarter of a century, from when the teens are first questioned about the incident in the spring of 1989, going through their exoneration in 2002 and ultimately the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014. The cast is full of Emmy nominees and winners, including Michael Kenneth Williams, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, and Blair Underwood. Oscar nominated and Emmy winner Ava DuVernay co-wrote and directed the four episodes.
USA
IMDb   8.9 /10
Metacritic   86 %
TheMovieDb    8.2 /10
RottenTomatoes  97 %
FilmAffinity   7.9 /10
Creators
Creator Ava DuVernay
Information
Release Date2019-05-31
Runtime4h 56mins
GenreBiography, Crime, Drama, History
Content RatingTV-MA (TV-MA)
AwardsTop Rated TV #39 | Won 2 Primetime Emmys. Another 26 wins & 73 nominations.
CompanyARRAY Filmworks, Forward Movement, Harpo Films
CountryUSA
LanguageEnglish
Kevin Richardson (Teen) 4 episodes, 2019
Antron McCray (Teen) 4 episodes, 2019
Yusef Salaam (Teen) 4 episodes, 2019
Raymond Santana Jr (Teen) 4 episodes, 2019
Linda McCray 4 episodes, 2019
Angie Richardson 4 episodes, 2019
Raymond Santana Sr. 4 episodes, 2019
Deloris Wise 4 episodes, 2019
Grace Cuffee 4 episodes, 2019
Bobby McCray 4 episodes, 2019
Korey Wise 3 episodes, 2019
Sharonne Salaam 3 episodes, 2019
Linda Fairstein 3 episodes, 2019
DA Robert Morgenthau 3 episodes, 2019
Detective Michael Sheehan 3 episodes, 2019
Nomsa Brath 3 episodes, 2019
Trisha Meili 3 episodes, 2019
Natividad 3 episodes, 2019
Elizabeth Lederer 3 episodes, 2019
Elombre Brath 3 episodes, 2019
Antron McCray (Adult) 2 episodes, 2019
Yusef Salaam / ... 2 episodes, 2019
Kevin Richardson (Adult) 2 episodes, 2019
Raymond Santana Jr (Adult) 2 episodes, 2019
Nancy Ryan 2 episodes, 2019
Colin Moore 2 episodes, 2019
Lisa 2 episodes, 2019
Tim Clements 2 episodes, 2019
Detective Hildebrandt 2 episodes, 2019
Detective Gonzales / ... 2 episodes, 2019
Court Clerk 2 episodes, 2019
Eddie 2 episodes, 2019
Terence 2 episodes, 2019
Mike 2 episodes, 2019
Al Morris 2 episodes, 2019
Patricia Dean 2 episodes, 2019
John Loughlin 2 episodes, 2019
Local News Reporter 2 episodes, 2019
Peter Rivera 2 episodes, 2019
Mickey Joseph 2 episodes, 2019
Manuel Santana 2 episodes, 2019
Tanya 2 episodes, 2019
Elena 2 episodes, 2019
Bobby Burns 2 episodes, 2019
Barber 2 episodes, 2019
Jermain 2 episodes, 2019
Prison Correctional Officer 2 episodes, 2019

When They See Us

When They See Us is a 2019 American crime drama television miniseries created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, that premiered in four parts on May 31, 2019. It is based on events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five Black male suspects who were falsely accused then prosecuted on charges related to the rape and assault of a white woman in Central Park, New York City. The series features an ensemble cast, including Jharrel Jerome, Asante Blackk, Jovan Adepo, Michael K. Williams, Logan Marshall-Green, Joshua Jackson, Blair Underwood, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Marsha Stephanie Blake, and Kylie Bunbury.

When They See Us received critical acclaim, with particular praise for its cast. At the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, it received 11 nominations; Jerome won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie while it was nominated for Outstanding Limited Series and Ellis, Nash, Blackk, Leguizamo, Williams, Blake, and Farmiga all received acting nominations. The series also won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Limited Series.

A companion special, titled Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now, in which the cast, the creator, and the exonerated five are interviewed, premiered on June 12, 2019, on Netflix and the Oprah Winfrey Network.


Premise

When They See Us is based on events of the April 19, 1989, Central Park jogger case and explores the lives of the five suspects who were prosecuted on charges related to the sexual assault of a female victim, and of their families. The five juvenile males of color, the protagonists of the series: Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk), Antron McCray (Caleel Harris), Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse), Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome), and Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez), were divided by the prosecutor into two groups for trial. Each youth was convicted by juries of various charges related to the assault; four were convicted of rape. They were sentenced to maximum terms for juveniles except for Korey Wise, who was 16 at the time of the crime and treated as an adult by the legal system. He had been held in adult facilities and served his time in adult prison.

They filed a suit against the city in 2003 for wrongful conviction and were awarded a settlement in 2014.


Cast and characters

Main

  • Asante Blackk as Kevin Richardson Justin Cunningham as adult Kevin Richardson
  • Justin Cunningham as adult Kevin Richardson
  • Caleel Harris as Antron McCray Jovan Adepo as adult Antron McCray
  • Jovan Adepo as adult Antron McCray
  • Ethan Herisse as Yusef Salaam Chris Chalk as adult Yusef Salaam
  • Chris Chalk as adult Yusef Salaam
  • Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise
  • Marquis Rodriguez as Raymond Santana Freddy Miyares as adult Raymond Santana
  • Freddy Miyares as adult Raymond Santana
  • Marsha Stephanie Blake as Linda McCray, Antron McCray's mother.
  • Kylie Bunbury as Angie Richardson, an older sister of Kevin Richardson.
  • Aunjanue Ellis as Sharonne Salaam, Yusef Salaam's mother.
  • Vera Farmiga as Elizabeth Lederer
  • Felicity Huffman as Linda Fairstein
  • John Leguizamo as Raymond Santana Sr., Raymond Santana's father.
  • Niecy Nash as Delores Wise, Korey Wise's mother.
  • Michael K. Williams as Bobby McCray, Antron McCray's father.

Recurring

  • Omar Dorsey as Elombe Brath, a community organizer and activist who appears in the media to defend the five
  • Suzzanne Douglas as Grace Cuffe
  • Christopher Jackson as Peter Rivera, lawyer who represented Raymond
  • Joshua Jackson as Michael Joseph, lawyer who defended Antron
  • Famke Janssen as Nancy Ryan, a Manhattan ADA originally assigned to the case before it was given to Lederer and later oversaw the overturning of the five's convictions
  • Adepero Oduye as Nomsa Brath, a community organizer and activist who takes on her husband Elombe's cause after his death
  • Aurora Perrineau as Tanya, girlfriend of Raymond Santana Jr. (adult)
  • Storm Reid as Lisa, girlfriend of Korey Wise
  • William Sadler as Michael Sheehan
  • Blair Underwood as Bobby Burns, lawyer who represented Yusef
  • Len Cariou as Robert Morgenthau
  • Chikwudi Iwuji as Colin Moore, lawyer who represented Korey
  • Frank Pando as Detective Gonzalez
  • Alexandra Templer as Trisha Meili
  • Jayce Bartok as Detective Hildebrandt
  • Dascha Polanco as Elena, new wife of Raymond Santana Sr.

Guest

  • Allan Greenberg as Howard Diller, lawyer who represented Kevin
  • Isis King as Marci Wise, Korey's sister, who is a transgender woman
  • Logan Marshall-Green as Roberts
  • Gary Perez as Manuel Santana
  • Reece Noi as Matias Reyes

Episodes

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
1"Part One"Ava DuVernayTeleplay by : Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece and Robin Swicord
Story by : Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece
May 31, 2019
Five adolescents (Raymond, Kevin, Korey, Yusef, and Antron) are shown in their comfortable, familiar residential neighborhood of Harlem, bantering with each other and playing. They are picked up by police in a sweep of the park after several assaults against other users that night, but it is not until later that the injured jogger is found, and pressure increases.
2"Part Two"Ava DuVernayTeleplay by : Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece and Attica Locke
Story by : Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece
May 31, 2019
The New York City police are shown exerting pressure on the five youths to confess, setting them against one another, talking to them without parents or counsel present, and struggling with evidence. The brutal assault of the jogger has increased pressure on the police to solve the crime and on the prosecutor to take it to trial and gain convictions. Suggestions are made that the timelines, conflicting accounts, and lack of substantive evidence do not support the case, but the juries convict each of the youths of most charges.
3"Part Three"Ava DuVernayTeleplay by : Ava DuVernay and Robin Swicord
Story by : Ava DuVernay
May 31, 2019
Antron, Yusef, Kevin, and Raymond struggle with being in a juvenile facility. They eventually are released after serving time and have difficulty adjusting to life outside.
4"Part Four"Ava DuVernayTeleplay by : Ava DuVernay & Michael Starrbury
Story by : Ava DuVernay
May 31, 2019
Korey is in adult prison and has the most difficult experiences, choosing the difficulty of isolation cells over repeated assaults by fellow inmates, supported by the cell guards. In 2002 the actual assailant confesses, his DNA matches the evidences that fit his account. The convictions of the five are vacated. They file a suit against the city, for which they receive a settlement in 2014. Their later lives, detailing marriages, work, social justice activism, and other activities, are summarized. Four of the five move away from the city to make their lives elsewhere.

Special

TitleDirected byOriginal release date
"Oprah Winfrey Presents: When They See Us Now"Mark RitchieJune 12, 2019
Oprah Winfrey interviews the main cast and executive producers of When They See Us, and the exonerated five.

Production

Development

On July 6, 2017, it was announced that Netflix had given the production Central Park Five a series order consisting of five episodes. The series was created by Ava DuVernay who was also set to write and direct. Executive producers were expected to include DuVernay, Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Rosenthal and Berry Welsh. Production companies involved with the series were set to include Participant Media, Harpo Films, and Tribeca Productions. On July 9, 2018, it was reported that the series would consist of four episodes, Bradford Young would serve as the series' cinematographer, and Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, and Michael Starrbury would cowrite each episode with DuVernay.

On March 1, 2019, DuVernay announced the series had been retitled When They See Us and would be released on May 31, 2019. The announcement was accompanied by the release of a teaser.

Casting

In July 2018, it was announced that Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Jharrel Jerome, and Jovan Adepo had joined the series' main cast. On August 3, 2018, it was reported that Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Kylie Bunbury, Marsha Stephanie Blake, and Storm Reid had been cast in supporting roles. A week later, it was announced that Chris Chalk, Ethan Herisse, Marquis Rodriguez, Caleel Harris, Freddy Miyares, Justin Cunningham and Asante Blackk had filled out the main cast, both as adults and as teenagers. By the end of the month, it was reported that Joshua Jackson, Christopher Jackson, Adepero Oduye, Omar Dorsey, Blair Underwood, Famke Janssen, William Sadler, and Aurora Perrineau had also joined the cast.

Filming

Principal photography for the series began during the week of August 6, 2018, in New York City, with cinematography by Bradford Young. On August 10, 2018, filming took place on Madison Avenue in the East Harlem area of Manhattan.


Reception

Audience viewership

On June 25, 2019, Netflix announced that the miniseries had been streamed by over 23 million viewers within its first month of release.

Critical response

When They See Us received widespread critical acclaim. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the miniseries has an approval rating of 96% based on 85 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Ava DuVernay pulls no punches in When They See Us, laying out the harrowing events endured by the Central Park Five while adding a necessary layer of humanity to their story that challenges viewers to reconsider what it means to find justice in America." On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 86 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".

Daniel D'Addario from Variety mentioned in a glowing review of the miniseries, that "When They See Us immerses viewers in a tale with none of the gaudy fun that true crime often offers. It's an achievement and, given its pride of place on a streaming service despite its difficult subject matter, a worthy use of its director’s star power." Roger Ebert's Odie Henderson awarded the series a rating of 3 and 1/2 out of four stars, noting that "there’s a lot to recommend When They See Us. It does as much as it can to recast the gaze on Black and brown people, eliciting empathy and the desire for justice. It demonizes the right people and demands your fury over the events presented." Daniel Fienberg from The Hollywood Reporter recommended the miniseries in his review by highlighting that "When They See Us is a rigorous attempt to chronicle an epic legal failure and to help restore a sense of the men as individuals, rather than faceless members of a wrongfully accused collective." Commending DuVernay's thematic and thoughtful approach to the subject matter and content, he adds that the series avoids the "typical triumph-over-adversity narrative tropes".

Matt Goldberg of Collider gave it a very positive review, writing: "The emotional impact of When They See Us cannot be understated." He said further, "I watched The Central Park Five earlier this month, and it's a good way to understand the case and its basic facts, but even though has interviews with all five men, it doesn't come close to what DuVernay does here with this cast, her craftsmanship, and Bradford Young's stunning cinematography." Lucy Mangan from The Guardian complimented the miniseries, saying it is

dense, fast-moving series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement (though you could argue they all have that same root cause) on people with the boys' background. The lack of money that leads to inadequate lawyers and mothers unable to visit their sons incarcerated in distant places. The lifetime of fear and vulnerability that causes one parent to encourage his son to sign the confession so they can leave the station and sort things out later. The powerlessness in the face of an authority that doesn't look like you or care about you.

In a positive review of the miniseries, Jen Chaney from Vulture wrote that, "When They See Us, Ava DuVernay's sensitively wrought Netflix miniseries about what happened to those boys, strips away the dehumanizing tendency to bunch them together and instead shows what each of them dealt with individually when they were coerced into giving false confessions, forced to do time for a crime they did not commit, and, eventually, exonerated when their convictions were vacated in 2002."

Willa Paskin of Slate gave the series a positive recommendation, writing that "When They See Us may be making an appeal to our duty to attend to this not-at-all-ancient history—but is not, itself, dutiful. In one aspect, in particular, DuVernay's approach is refreshingly unencumbered." Robert Lloyd from Los Angeles Times praised the series, stating that it is "a story about parents and children as much as it is about justice and race — the series has plenty of contemporary resonance on the latter account — and there is strong work from Niecy Nash, John Leguizamo, Aunjanue Ellis and Michael Kenneth Williams among the older generation."

Armond White from National Review criticized the series in his review, unfavorably contrasting its portrayal of racial tension and violence to period films like Boyz n the Hood and Do the Right Thing.

Accolades

AwardCategoryNominee(s)ResultRef.
British Academy Television AwardsBest International ProgrammeWhen They See UsWon
Casting Society of AmericaLimited SeriesAisha Coley, Billy Hopkins and Ashley IngramWon
Critics' Choice Television AwardsBest Limited SeriesWhen They See UsWon
Best Actor in a Limited Series or Television MovieJharrel JeromeWon
Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Television MovieAsante BlackkNominated
John LeguizamoNominated
Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Television MovieMarsha Stephanie BlakeNominated
Niecy NashNominated
Directors Guild of America AwardsOutstanding Directing – Movies for Television and Limited SeriesAva DuVernayNominated
GLAAD Media AwardsOutstanding Limited SeriesWhen They See UsNominated
Gotham AwardsBreakthrough Series – Long FormWon
NAACP Image AwardsOutstanding Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic SpecialWon
Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic SpecialCaleel HarrisNominated
Ethan Henry HerisseNominated
Jharrel JeromeWon
Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic SpecialAunjanue EllisNominated
Niecy NashWon
Peabody AwardsEntertainmentWhen They See UsWon
Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Limited SeriesAva DuVernay, Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro, Berry Welsh and Oprah WinfreyNominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or MovieJharrel JeromeWon
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or MovieAunjanue EllisNominated
Niecy NashNominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or MovieAsante BlackkNominated
John LeguizamoNominated
Michael K. WilliamsNominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or MovieMarsha Stephanie BlakeNominated
Vera FarmigaNominated
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic SpecialAva DuVernayNominated
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic SpecialAva DuVernay and Michael Starrbury (for "Part Four")Nominated
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy AwardsOutstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie, or SpecialAisha Coley, Billy Hopkins and Ashley IngramWon
Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or MovieBradford Young (for "Part One")Nominated
Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score)Kris Bowers (for "Part Two")Nominated
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie, or SpecialSuat Ayas, Bobbi Banks, John Benson, Susan Dudeck, Naaman Haynes, Chase Keene, Elliott Koretz, Dawn Lunsford, Jen Monnar, Jesse Pomeroy, Alicia Stevenson, Bruce Tanis and Matt Wilson (for "Part Four")Nominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or MovieChris Carpenter, Joe DeAngelis and Jan McLaughlin (for "Part Four")Nominated
Producers Guild of America AwardsOutstanding Producer of Limited Series TelevisionJeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro, Berry Welsh, Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, Amy Kaufman and Robin SwicordNominated
Satellite AwardsBest MiniseriesWhen They See UsNominated
Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV FilmJharrel JeromeNominated
Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV FilmAunjanue EllisNominated
Niecy NashNominated
Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television MovieJharrel JeromeNominated
Society of Composers & Lyricists AwardsOutstanding Original Score for a Television or Streaming ProductionKris BowersNominated
TCA AwardsProgram of the YearWhen They See UsNominated
Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and SpecialsNominated

Fairstein reaction and lawsuit

Linda Fairstein, the original New York prosecutor of the case, wrote of the Netflix series in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that it was "so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication." The lawyer-turned-New York Times bestselling author said she agreed with exonerations of the rape charges against the five — but said "the other charges, for crimes against other victims, should not have been vacated."

John E. Reid & Associates took DuVernay, ARRA, and Netflix to court in October 2019 because the series called the company's once widely used trademark controversial interrogation technique as "universally rejected." A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit "Because the First Amendment protects non-factual assertions". In March 2020, Fairstein filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida against Netflix, DuVernay, and Locke for defamation based on her portrayal in the series. In August 2021, the District Court ruled that some of Farstein's claims of defamation and civil conspiracy may proceed to trial.