Netflix | Now streaming
Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Kylie Bunbury, Aunjanue Ellie, Vera Farmiga, Felicity Huffman, John Leguizamo, Niecy Nash, Michael K. Williams
When They See Us is a show that's as relevant as ever and seems to be something we need at this point in our history. The show recounts the events of a case in 1989 in which a 28 year old female jogger was attacked and raped in Central Park in New York City. Five juveniles aged 14 to 16 and now known as the Central Park Five, were falsely accused and convicted of the crime and were all forced to serve time in jail. Not just a few days, or a few months, but years in jail for a crime they had absolutely zero part in. They were coerced by the police to make up a story that landed them there. So, yeah. N.W.A.'s "Fuck tha Police" comes to mind immediately in the first episode.
While watching through it all, it was almost hard to believe that something like this actually happened. It's as if it all just came from immaculate fictional writing, but at the same time, you know this stuff wasn't just made up. It's that well-crafted and put together that you'll easily be able to watch all four very extensive episodes in one sitting. DuVernay is also no stranger to the topic of racial injustice and inequality. In fact, it's her expertise. She's responsible for the important biopic, Selma, the important documentary, 13th, and now the important television show, When They See Us.
A show like this should be required viewing for any contemporary college course that covers criminal justice. Even though this trial happened 30 years ago, it's applicable to today. It's insane to think a case that happened three decades ago could still happen today based on all of the racial profiling that happens far too often with law enforcement.
You shouldn't even have to watch it for its importance, but for everything else. To watch the story unravel and learn about each individual's lives was especially well-balanced thanks to DuVernay and her staff of writers. The direction was brilliant on her end and Bradford Young did a fabulous job with the cinematography. However, what was most captivating about When They See Us are the performances. There didn't seem to be one weak link at all and the cast is not only huge, but it's stacked. Every single young man that played one of the Central Park Five did an amazing job. You may not know them now, but I'm sure you will very soon. Then there were the veterans. You get nothing but powerhouse performances from Aunjanue Ellis, John Leguizamo, Niecy Nash, and Michael K. Williams. So much talent was packed in just four episodes.
When They See Us isn't just an impressive overall miniseries, but it packs an exceedingly heavy impact in today's day and age. It's as much a story about racial injustice than it is about families and what you would do and sacrifice for the ones you love. And with today's pop culture obsession with true crime, this is one that cannot be missed. ★★★★½
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