June 18, 2019

The Past's Indictment of the Present

“In March, Netflix announced that the name of Ava DuVernay’s forthcoming limited series about an infamous 1989 rape case and its racially charged aftermath would be changed from Central Park Five (as the group of young men accused of the crime are commonly called) to When They See Us. Now that the series is here, it’s clear why.

When They See Us (which premiered on Netflix on May 31) richly understands that in America — a country that makes sense of itself through images on screens — who you appear to be matters far more than who you actually are.

The “us” of the title is the five young teens (four black, one Latino) with whom the story is chiefly concerned, who came to be known as the Central Park Five: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. (Ken Burns made a well-crafted documentary about them in 2012; they were also the focus of one of Joan Didion’s most famous essays, published in 1991.) They were between the ages of 14 and 16 in 1989, when they were accused, coerced into confessing, and convicted of beating and raping a woman jogging in Central Park.”

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