Movie Review: When They See Us (Netflix)- The Central Park Five

When They See Us- Movie Review

If you’ve been wondering what all the fuzz is about, get comfy and let me fill you in. One night in April 1989, a young white woman who had been jogging was bludgeoned, raped and left for dead in Central Park, New York, United States. The evidence suggested that the crime had been committed by one man, but Linda Fairstein, head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office ignored credible leads and insisted that, even though the timeline and evidence did not match, it had to be 5 of the 30 black teens that had been in the park later that night.

When They See Us is a four-part miniseries re-enacting the infamous ‎Central Park Jogger rape case, how 5 black boys between 14 and 16 years old were coerced, falsely accused and punished for a crime they did not commit. It also draws special attention to how the Criminal Justice System in the United States of America is racially prejudiced and Donald Trump’s role in the media at the time.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, watch it below.

The first episode focuses on the night of the crime, the interrogations and the forced confessions. The second episode focuses on the media and trial. The third episode highlights the four (under 16) boys time in juvenile detention and their eventual release, while the fourth episode covers the experience of the 16 year old boy, who was convicted as an adult and sent to prison.

Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome and Marquis Rodriguez
Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome and Marquis Rodriguez – The Central Park Five

First, the acting and directing was phenomenal. The five main characters were brilliantly played by Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome and Marquis Rodriguez. Directed by Ava DuVernay, Felicity Huffman played Linda Fairstein.

Felicity Huffman (you probably know her from Desperate Housewives) played Linda Fairstein
Felicity Huffman (you probably know her from Desperate Housewives) played Linda Fairstein

These episodes are probably the longest 60 – 90 minutes you’ll ever spend watching any series, because you’ll pause in confusion, then you’ll pause again in wait-a-goddamn-minute, yet again in utter disbelief, and finally you’ll probably just close your browser to get in a proper cry, at least that’s what I did. I feel like, when they were talking about “a bitter pill to swallow”, they were talking about When They See Us. Forget Game of Thrones, this story and its emotionally-charged scenes were so well put together, it stays with you long after you are done watching. In addition, the cinematography was impressive, given that there is only so much you can do with a camera in a small prison cell. Ava’s mastery also gives humanity to a story which desperately needed it. She shows how poverty, disenfranchisement and fear leads a father to encourage his son to sign a false confession and then, she seamlessly connects a 30-year old case to the present, with Donald Trump featuring as himself.

You see, on May 1, 1989, the day the case headed to trial, Donald Trump, then-real estate developer spent $85,000 to place a full-page advert in four newspapers saying “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”, basically calling for the boys to be executed. Now, he never actually mentions the boys names but he clarifies any doubt by going on CNN’s Larry King Show and talking about them.

Years later, after all five men were proven to be innocent, Donald Trump wrote an editorial calling their exoneration “a disgrace”. He defended the detectives and stated  that “…these young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels..”. Same with Linda Fairstein, now a best-selling author of crime-fiction novels, she never apologised and suggested that the confession of Matias Reyes, the true rapist and murderer, only meant that she had missed one and so there must have been 6 rapists.


Now I could see how, burning with righteous-anger, she got carried away and probably believed she was doing the right thing at the time. However, how she can continue to defend her actions 30 years later despite DNA evidence and a confession from the real criminal proving that she had been wrong, is what makes her so vile. Everyone makes mistakes, and so I believe that what’s important is being quick to apologise, especially if there is the slightest chance that you were wrong. Personally, I’m just glad I have never bought, read or reviewed any of her books.

Now, watching this, it’s easy to get carried away and develop a dislike for white folks. However, it struck me that the one guard who was kind to Korey Wise was a white man and a black guard was one that arranged to have him beaten and raped in prison. In other cases, black people just stood by and let stuff happen. So, its not just about race, its about power and what people do when they have it.

As a black person in a white country, you can’t watch this without feeling some type of way. After watching this, I went to bed and woke up sad the next day and couldn’t even figure out why. I didn’t realise how the series had affected me until this white guy at the train station gave me directions. I was shocked at his unsolicited kindness when he said “No, it’s this way love”, then like God had a divine message for me that day, someone else even helped me with one of my boxes. There is definitely white privilege, but not all white folks are racist, and most will treat you with the dignity you deserve as a human being regardless of your colour.

Conclusion, I can’t fault anything about this series. It did appear somewhat one-sided, However, Aunty Linda would only speak to Ava if she let her edit the story, and we all know how that would have gone. Should you watch this movie? Oh, Absolutely. Even if you’ve got eyeballs of stone, watch it alone with tissue or with who ever you can ugly-cry with. If you are a parent, I don’t know how… maybe a little alcohol in addition, something to get you through, because having kids makes the pain and anger hit differently. When you have survived this, I think It is important to watch this with your kids, especially your teens because it is a true-story about teens. This miniseries is a story of how easily it could be anyone of us.

Have you seen When They See Us? Let’s cry and rejoice together in the comments!😢
As always, thank you for reading!

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9 responses to “Movie Review: When They See Us (Netflix)- The Central Park Five”

  1. I just finished watching the series and I saw your review. I like how the review is in detail and on point. To write this as a black person and not fuel the content with hate shows how strong you’re as a person. It’s very sad how the boys were treated and honestly the very last episode had me crying throughout. Such injustice must be frowned upon and I think this piece is a stepping stone for that. Nice work 👍❤👏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot! I’m glad you enjoyed this. I think that it isn’t really possible to watch this movie without feeling righteous-anger and disappointment. But we can’t change the past and so it is more important to learn from it and grow not just as black people but as individuals with one humanity.
      P:S: Please remember to share.😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw this movie yesterday of course after reading your review.
    To begin with, no judge in their right frame of mind, without conceived prejudice will allow that doctored mess of a recording into evidence. How can anyone question a minor in the absence of his or her legal guardian or representations and a court room allow such bs?
    As if that wanton disregard for the law wasn’t enough, it was established conclusively that the semen found at the crime scene didn’t match any of the accused. Wasn’t that “reasonable doubt” enough to dismiss the entire proceedings?
    Again, the story tells of a racially prejudiced patriarchy that I believe is still practically effective today.
    It is a nice movie though. It thought me a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely love the review, I haven’t watched but it’s as if I have just by reading your review. Secondly, the fact that you didn’t create any hate is laudable because I feel many times people judge generally because of the mistakes of an individual but we always forget that it’s the attitude that makes a person not their colour or race. Kudos!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I watched it yesterday and I was so sad afterwards. It’s incredible that it’s a real story and that even after 30 years, Linda Fairstein wouldn’t apologize. It’s true that not all white people are racist and I understand why you felt the way you did. My sister in law and I had a conversation about how lucky we are to be Nigerians where majority of the population are black and black is normal. Even if you have the citizenship of a white dominated country, you will still be seen as an outsider by some people because you’re black no matter how much you try to blend in. Great review!

    Liked by 3 people

    • You are absolutely right. Living in Nigeria where we are the majority is a privilege. Interesting thing is, while Linda was focused on these boys, the real murder went on to rape and kill at least 2 other victims. While she was raging about the savage attack on the jogger, a woman was raped and thrown off a 4 story building. It didn’t make the news and you know why.

      Liked by 1 person

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