by G. Brown
It’s been less than two weeks since director Ava DuVernay’s series “When They See Us” premiered on Netflix. The outcome…they see us and now they are seeing justice.
As one reviewer put it, “The emotional impact of When They See Us cannot be understated.” Two key words in that review…” impact” and “understated”–DuVernay’s four-part series is neither. While the wheels of justice move slowly, the impact of a powerful, factual story moves with the speed of Japan’s Shanghai Maglev train at 267 mph.
Former Prosecutor Linda Fairstein was the hero of the story back in 1990 as the woman who led the charge based on a lie that would negatively impact five innocent boys. Now, it’s her life that is being profoundly impacted as the truth of the case comes out. Fairstein was forced to resign from the boards of several prestigious organizations including her alma mater Vassar College. Glamour Magazine yanked her 1993 Women of the Year title and the former prosecutor turned crime novelist has been dropped by publishers.
DuVernay co-wrote the story of what really happened in Central Park that night in 1989 when a jogger was brutally raped, beaten and left in a coma. Police arrested five juveniles of color, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise who happened to be in the park that night as well. The boys were all 14-16 years and were victims of this crime as well.
The media tried the case calling them ‘The Central Park Five’ and with all the negative publicity, by the time the teens finally made it to trial, the case against them was anything but justice. They were convicted and the judges threw the book at them giving them maximum sentences. No one considered their innocence until 2002 when the real rapist confessed to the crime and DNA evidence proved he was telling the truth.
Among the takeaways from this saga, the young men received almost $45 million in settlements from NYC but they lost so much more. No amount of money is enough to give back what injustice has taken away from them.
DuVernay’s story shows us the villains of the story weren’t the villains after all. The media made this case against five innocent youths just because of they guilty by color. The irony here is noteworthy– the same medium used to unfairly railroad these young men was the same path of vindication used by DuVernay decades later.
The power DuVernay wielded is a beacon to all of us. We don’t have to be an esteemed Hollywood director or high-profile celebrity to make us powerful. Our sole voice is heard every time we post on IG or Facebook. Whether it’s movies, TV or Twitter, the media is a power that can be used to unleash hatred, racism, and lies to destroy society; or it can be a force of good to right wrongs, combat injustice, lift and build others.
How will you use your power today?