Netflix is the go-to platform for controversial series and exclusive productions. “When They See Us” is the latest series that has been trending for quite some time since its release.
Behind this dramatic series that tells the story of five men who were wrongfully accused of the 1989 rape of a New York woman as teenagers, is film extraordinaire Ava DuVernay, who is the creator and director. She has been working hard to bring their story out of obscurity through the streaming platform.
Oprah Winfrey meets exonerated men
Oprah Winfrey made her special Netflix appearance to host an intimate conversation and the room was filled with tears after the original five men — formerly referred to as “The Central Park Five” — opened up about their experiences following the wrongful conviction.
Back then they were minors with different aspirations and goals. When they stepped onto the stage to hug both Ava and Oprah as grown men before taking their seats, you could feel the pain from the years stolen from them due to this injustice.
Their names are Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. Some were more vocal than others when elaborating on the actual events that transpired leading to imprisonment. McCray, in particular, expressed his hatred toward his dad who influenced him to falsely confess to the crime. There is a scene where McCray’s father tells his son to make false confessions to the police in the Netflix series because he thought this was the only way for him to escape charges.
Opening up about experiences
Most of them are married with children except for a few. They all agreed that the monetary benefit from the lawsuit wasn’t enough to split among the group, especially after lawyer fees and other legal expenses. Money can’t buy back those youthful moments taken away.
Winfrey carefully engaged in conversation about the process of healing and took them back to those years of incarceration. The television icon discussed scenes from the four-part series, eliciting an emotional response from them.
They shared the chilling moment after the guilty verdict was announced in the courtroom — each of them reacted differently as teens. The crowd and the cast members now sitting in the audience began to shed tears when they opened up about their personal struggles due to the aftermath of the case. It was a surreal feeling for them that left permanent scars.
Cast members share their perspective
Cast members and producers also shared their personal experiences in the process of making the film. Winfrey went around the room and asked a variety of questions related to the preparation process of portraying the characters, while commending them for stellar performances.
Michael K. Williams played Bobby McCray, the father of Antran. He explained how his tough upbringing in New York could have resulted in the same dreadful outcome depicted. The audience listened carefully as other cast members gave insight into the social issues surrounding the film and shared their experiences meeting the five exonerated men.
Social impact of film
Reportedly, due to the sensitive nature of the film, mental health counselors were provided to the entire cast and crew — made accessible 24-hours.
Many have chimed in on social media with empathetic posts about the “The Exonerated Five” and celebrities have been seen in photos with them. This may not be enough to bring peace to the victims and their families.
But DuVernay has expressed her commitment in bringing awareness to racial injustice in America. With stories like “The Central Park Five” told through her filmmaking, the director seems to encourage much needed dialogue on taking more action towards criminal justice reform.