Former Prosecutor Sues Netflix Over ‘When They See Us’

Published on March 18, 2020

Former Prosecutor Linda Fairstein filed a lawsuit on Wednesday claiming he Netflix series When They See Us is defamatory.

When They See Us is an award-winning drama mini-series created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix. Fairstein’s lawsuit also names DuVernay and co-writer Attica Locke.

The Story

The Netflix mini-series tells the story of the Central Park Five. The case began with the rape of a jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989. Five young men of color were accused of the crime.

Four of the young men were convicted of rape and all five of some kind of assault. Four of the boys received the maximum sentence allowed for juveniles. The fifth boy, who was 16 at the time, was charged as an adult and served his time in adult prison.

The Five were eventually exonerated, and in 2003 they filed a wrongful conviction suit. They were awarded a settlement in 2013.


Fairstein was the prosecutor in the Central Park Five Case, played by Felicity Huffman in the series. In her lawsuit against Netflix, the prosecutor argues that her portrayal in When They See Us is defamatory to her character.

According to the suit, the film series, “which Defendants have marketed and promoted as a true story, Defendants depict Ms. Fairstein — using her true name — as a racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost”

Fairstein’s lawyers claim that the creators of When They See Us invented dialogue in order to paint the prosecutor as racist and prejudiced against the five boys. They also claim that, contrary to what the series portrays, Fairstein was not in fact in charge of the investigation or the prosecution of the case against The Central Park Five.

Netflix responded to the news with a strong statement against the suit.

“Linda Fairstein’s frivolous lawsuit is without merit. We intend to vigorously defend ‘When They See Us’ and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series.”

Critics loved When They See Us when it premiered in May 2019. The series was also nominated for a variety of awards, ultimately winning an Emmy and two NAACP Image Awards.

Olivia Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in San Francisco, she covers events, entertainment, fashion, and technology. She also serves as a Voices contributor at PopSugar.

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