There haven’t really been many great shows chronicling real life incidents or tragedies other than a handful of them like ‘The Looming Tower’, based on the CIA’s attempts to nab Osama Bin Laden before the 2001 attacks, or the more recent HBO drama ‘Chernobyl’, about the chemical disaster in Russia. But one series which has seemingly flew under the radar, especially in India, is Ava Duvernay’s Netflix Miniseries ‘When They See Us’ which is based on the infamous 1987 Central Park case in which 4 Black Americans, and 1 Hispanic American were convicted for the rape of a white female jogger. The case gained notoriety because 4 out of the 5 convicts were below the age of 16. While the 4 underage boys were sent to juvenile prisons, the 5th one had to face the brunt of going to a normal prison where he encountered continous physical and mental abuse through being kept in solitary for nearly 7 years. It’s a hard rending tale of gross injustice caused by hatred towards an entire race. It’s also a timely story, as it has a young business magnate Trump, releasing his appeal to award these boys with death penalties, for which he shelled out $85,000, advertising it in the biggest newspapers of America and that too as headlines!
Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., Antron Mccray, Yusef Salaam and the the 16 year old Korey Wise were the convicted boys whose growing up years, the very years in which they would learn to tackle the world, were taken away from them, all caused due to bias and police brutality. The entire first episode revolves around the crime and coerced confessions made by the boys against each other, someone they didn’t even knew personally. This whole event is disturbing to watch as we get to see how the police had taken advantage of these kid’s condition by making them false promises about being witnesses to the crime. It’s infuriating and gut wrenching to see someone so innocent made to face the legal system.
The 2nd episode, which revolves around the trial, is even more affecting. The emotional trauma faced by the families of the boys is so real that it left a lump in my throat. The final verdict of the jury, in which the boys are awarded their punishments, is so wonderfully shot that it leaves you admiring the craft while also leaves you shocked by the emotional gut punch caused by it. Coming to the 3rd episode which depicts the struggle of the 4 underage boys and their subsequent release from the prison and attempts to adjust back into the everyday world, it makes you question why these boys suffered what they did, and will they ever find a place in this world which has tagged them as sexual assualtars.
The 4th and last episode of the show, revolving around Korey Wise, is the most impressive one in terms of how it crushes your soul to pieces, leaving you devastated by the plea of this boy who was never meant to be here, never meant to face this abuse. The performance by Jharrel Jerome, as Korey Wise, is a towering one, a monumental showcase of acting talent which deserves every award in the world. This boy will go places with the kind of talent he possesses.
The writing and direction by Ava Duvernay, is heartfelt and heavy, hopeless and yet with an ending which fills you with hope. This is her magnum opus in every way possible. This show isn’t just an American saga, it is a universal tale, a highly political depiction of hate and divide.’When They See Us’ is essential and important viewing, and something certainly not to be missed.