Today, critically acclaimed and Academy Award nominated director, Ava Duvernay, releases her latest project detailing the devastating consequences and impacts our criminal legal system has on Black people in the U.S. When They See Us, a drama miniseries on Netflix, examines the high-profile “Central Park Five” case, in which Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were accused of raping Trisha Meili on April 19, 1989. From their initial arrests to interrogations in the courtroom—to their ultimate detention and returning to their communities post-incarceration—the 4-part limited series walks us through how these 5 Black boys were eaten alive by the prison industrial complex which is underpinned by white supremacy and the inherent criminalization of Black people. They never had a chance because this country doesn’t see us.
In addition to the series being a critique of the criminal legal system overall, When They See Us rightfully spotlights how mass media continually serves as an accomplice to the prison industrial complex. During her interview on the Daily Show, Ava shares why she chose not to name the series “Central Park Five” as she believes it’s a “political moniker that dehumanized them and made you not actually hear and understand know who they are.” For instance, before the trial began, Donald Trump paid $85,000 to take out full page ads in 4 New York City newspapers calling for McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise’ executions. 89% of new headlines covering the case never used the word “alleged” when describing the incident that took place that night. The media’s rush to judgement and assuming the children’s guilt is an example of how biased media representation significantly and continuously contributes to Black criminalization, incarceration and murder. We at MediaJustice know and fully understand how media and technology continues to be used to legitimize and sustain the criminal legal system as is. We also believe that media, technology and storytelling can be effective tools in helping to abolish systems of oppression and liberate Black and brown communities—when in the hands of those actually seeking justice outside of state intervention. Watch Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us on Netflix and check out @mediajustice’s thoughts and reflections on Twitter.