I’m not gonna lie it took me a couple days to get through Ava Duvernay’s Netflix miniseries “When They See Us”. I was a baby when the case of the Central Park Five rose to popularity. And even still I was just 12 years old at the time of their exoneration in 2002. Being a reader (and somewhat just nosy) I became familiar with their case pretty young but I never took the time to fully understand everything that happened. Couple that with being a sheltered child and I pretty much didn’t get a FULL grasp on the seriousness of this case. And then I watched this miniseries a couple days ago. And my heart was broken. Multiple times and in multiple ways. Over a course of 3 days I got a glimpse into what it was like to be the Central Park Five.
About When They See Us
Based on a true story that gripped the country, When They See Us will chronicle the notorious case of five teenagers of color, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit. The four part limited series will focus on the five teenagers from Harlem — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. Beginning in the spring of 1989, when the teenagers were first questioned about the incident, the series will span 25 years, highlighting their exoneration in 2002 and the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for what I was about to witness watching this case. My heart literally broke over and over. I watched this LITTLE BOYS be coerced, lied to, taken advantage of and wrongfully convicted of a crime they did not commit. I felt anger towards the detectives, the attorneys, the jury and ultimately I was mad at the parents. So many people failed these children. And ESPECIALLY being a mom of boys especially I could not fathom that this actually happened. How could so many people let this happen?
Jharell Jerome is Korey Wise
But amidst fighting back tears and cussing under my breath, one thing stood out to me most. Jharrel Jerome, who portrays both young and older Korey Wise in the series. In the series he was only at the precinct accompanying his best friend Yusef Salaam. After being threatened, beaten and abused. Korey, who is inarticulate naive and clearly scared ends up being the one to “tie all the pieces together”. Thus providing the detectives with a coerced confession via videotape of the rape of the jogger. Wise was the only member of the Central Park Five to be sent to an adult prison. In the last episode of the miniseries we get a closer look at Wise’s experience specifically.
Being a child in an adult prison (obviously) proved to be physically, emotionally and mentally wearing on Wise. Jerome depicts it all. Isolated from his “friends”, sent to Rikers alone and eventually being transferred multiple times to different facilities all in hopes of being closer to his mother who eventually becomes more distant. From the abuse of the other inmates and guards, to Wise’s deteriorating mental state spent in solitary confinement you go through his 13 years in prison never once second guessing that we are actually witness Wise’s life. Every other actor had an older counterpart. Jerome portrays Wise in this series from start to finish. Jharell Jerome literally transforms from a little boy to a grown man before our eyes. He deserves an award. And I’ll be pissed if he doesn’t receive one.
My Overall Thoughts on When They See Us
Despite the fact that it took days to get through this, I am so grateful to Ava Duvernay for helping the real stories be told. When They See Us should be a must on everyone’s watch list. It’s triggering, it may take you days to watch but I implore you to get through it. And while it can’t be ignored that this is a story based on real lives, the portrayal of these people, Wise specifically is done in such an amazing way. While I can’t say when I’ll be ready to watch it again, it is definitely worth a second watch.
Have you watched When They See Us? How familiar were you with the Central Park Five before the miniseries?
When They See Us is streaming now on Netflix.