When They See Us is a peek into a frightening world that I’m certainly not familiar with. Immediately, during the four-part series (depicting the arrest and eventual vindication of The Central Park Five) I found myself questioning if this act of a few members of law enforcement trying to put forth a narrative based on race, or is this a reflection of today. Yes, this horrific crime and injustice occurred in 1989, but one can’t deny the similarities found in this case aren’t prevalent today. How many times have we seen traffic stops end in tragedy, and the victim is an African American? Seemingly, the media has done its job to sensationalize those moments by posting pictures of these victim showing of a perceived thuggish nature. Was that the only picture you could track down? In 1989, the media had determined an outcome for those five even before the first witness was called, and twenty years later, we haven’t changed our ways. Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us isn’t a series or a movie, it’s an education for those who haven’t experienced these terrorizing moments of injustice and an invitation to begin a dialogue.
How does When They See Us promote a dialogue? Well, the series is set up over four parts. Part one lays out the issues were impacting the police department in 1989 (and some might argue still are today). The 2nd points out how the socioeconomic of the boys more than likely lead to their conviction (if they had a lawyer with any sense on that team, they could have easily been acquited). The 3rd and 4th episodes point out the societal obstacles impacting those who are released from prison. Duvernay was masterful at weaving in all of these moments showing the butterfly effect this injustice had on their lives. Yes, they were vindicated, but no one can give them the years they spent incarcerated.
The ensemble was fantastic but the two standouts to me where Niecy Nash and Jharell Jerome. Nash, who is generally found in more a comedic role, showed her versatility and likely some awards season buzz down the road. Jharell Jerome is a revelation captured the attention of many voters as well.
What we mustn’t lose sight is much of what seems outrageous in When They See Us occurred. Those were children who were brought in just because of how they looked not cause of any scientific proof. Are we that far removed from these kinds of moments? Hopefully, we begin to talk about these issues and work towards a common ground. Thank you, Mrs. Duvernay, for the brilliant lessons this series taught me. Sometimes we have to change our perspective to see a broader picture. When They See Us opened my eyes.