When They See Us – Netflix Drama series

When They See Us – Netflix Drama series
Edozie Ameke | 2020 - January to March | USA
Edozie reflects on the wrongful imprisonment of five innocent men

Powerful, emotionally profound, and very upsetting, ‘When They See Us’ is an American drama mini-series created, co-written, and directed by Ava Du Vernay that premiered in four parts on Netflix in 2019. It is based on events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five black male suspects wrongly accused and prosecuted for the rape and assault of a woman in New York City. 

Usually people of African-Caribbean descent are treated as a homogenous mass in representations of any social issue. In this mini drama series, what is particularly profound is the fact that we get to learn about each individual as a human being and gain a thoroughly detailed insight into the trauma and injustice that each individual endured. Tricked by the police into giving false confessions, they were forced to serve lengthy prison sentences for a crime they did not commit, although each would later be exonerated and awarded financial settlements.

The series features an eerie, almost surreal and deliberately ironic reference to Donald Trump, who took out an advert in the newspapers at that time calling for the death penalty for the accused 5 young men,  before there had even been a trial. Donald Trump was proven wrong, and his pattern of using other people’s traumatic experiences for his own ends is shown clearly and tragically in the mini-series.

Particularly heart-breaking is the depiction of the father who pressures his son to plead guilty even though he knows his son is innocent, due to the pressure the police put on the father by threatening to put him in jail for petty crimes. Many people will struggle to answer how they would have acted in similar circumstances.

30 years later, the events that happened back in 1989 are just as relevant today - as is reflected in current campaigns such as ‘Black Lives Matter.’ The political climate in the USA today has taken a step backwards with the election of a president who seems to not only care little for the truth, but was once clearly willing to participate in the unlawful destruction of innocent African-American lives.