Ava DuVernay: The Central Park Five were picked up ‘for just being boys’

T&C Summer 2019_Ava DuVernay_1

Ava DuVernay’s latest is a Netflix “limited series” (miniseries) called When They See Us. It’s a deep dive into the story of the Central Park Five, the five teenage boys who were wrongly convicted and imprisoned for years for the rape and assault of a white female jogger in New York in 1989. The New York papers and NYPD turned the case into an absolute circus and it remains one of the ugliest moments and biggest travesties of justice of the past fifty years. DuVernay covers the latest issue of Town & Country to promote it – this is actually the “Philanthropy Issue,” and there are multiple covers and cover features. DuVernay’s cover story includes the Central Park Five backstory and interviews with some of the men. Here’s the trailer- this is difficult to watch:

In the T&C interview, DuVernay talks about how she came to direct this and develop it – one of the men contacted her and she met with him, and it went on from there. Some highlights from her interview:

On what she wanted to convey in ‘When They See Us’: “Often when you hear ‘criminal,’ they’re dehumanized. What we try to do in the series is show that these are living, breathing people with thoughts, memories, feelings families.”

On the injustices the exonerated Central Park Five suffered that others don’t: “All of them were picked up off the street that day for just being boys – boys will be boys. Just like Brett Kavanaugh, just like all the white boys or the women reading this magazine who go on spring break and do all kinds of things and are never considered a wolfpack or a gang, never given the full brunt of the criminal justice system. The hope is that people can watch this story and consider the evils of that system. The film is designed to inspire conversation and change.”

On her emotional reaction at the conclusion of filming: “At the end, getting their blessing and approval was one of my biggest career achievements. And I’ve had some pretty good ones.” She says she generally refuses to cry at her own work, “yet when I got to the end of episode four, I cried like a baby. The cumulative emotion broke me down in a way that was unlike anything I’ve done. It was just profoundly moving for me, personally, that these men allowed me to tell their story, and deeply resonant for me as a citizen of this country that this is something we allowed to happen. And it’s not just happening to them, it’s happening to so many people.”

[From Town & Country]

Sometimes the weight of these everyday injustices just makes my heart hurt, like a weight that I can’t even lift. “…Boys will be boys. Just like Brett Kavanaugh, just like all the white boys or the women reading this magazine who go on spring break and do all kinds of things and are never considered a wolfpack or a gang.” It’s true. We see it over and over again – black children are treated as adults, as predators, as gangsters, all while 40-year-old white men committing treason are called “boys” and allowed “youthful mistakes.” I would argue that Brett Kavanaugh’s drunken sexual assault of Christine Blassey Ford was a million times worse than what the Central Park Five children were up to.


Photos courtesy of Alex Bhattacharji for Town & Country, sent from promotional Town & Country email.

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32 Responses to “Ava DuVernay: The Central Park Five were picked up ‘for just being boys’”

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  1. Wow says:

    It should not have taken this long for there to have been accountability for all the people that mishandled this case. Not only did they fail to get appropriate justice for the original victim *who I understand is controversial, but I will not sit here and criticize a RAPE survivor who was lied to for years by the people she went to for help* they also succeeded in creating 5 more victims who will NEVER get their lives back.

    Good on her for making this and fighting for real justice and accountability.

    • Mumbles says:

      Meili still thinks those kids are guilty, and that’s disgusting. Of course she makes a living as a “inspirational speaker” and I would imagine her core audience gets more worked up about the idea of five black boys raping her than the truth. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is difficult to get a person to accept the truth when their livelihood depends on them not understanding it.

      • Wow says:

        The woman was raped and nearly beaten to death. She spent years with the police and “evidence” pointing at them. Do me a favor and step off the woman who was beaten and raped within an inch of her life suffering a traumatic brain injury and lets focus on the people who fabricated her justice creating more victims.

        This is not her fault. She did not accuse them. Her stance is that they are innocent, but she believes she had more than one attacker.

      • Mina says:

        Does she? I remember her saying that she believes she was attacked by more than one person and she wanted the case back in court instead of a settlement because there was a ton of information that was starting to be revealed and she didn’t know about. That seems fair to me, considering what she went through. Not to mention, the defense lawyers treated her awfully on the stand, asking about her sexual history and typical victim blaming so I can’t really fault her for not jumping on the poor kids wagon. She doesn’t know what happened, and she wants to trust the people that treated her right (prosecutors) in a very traumatic time.

      • kerwood says:

        I read a few pages of her memoir and almost threw up in the bookstore.

        The victim has no memory of the attack because the man who raped her beat her so badly that her brain was permanently damaged. Yet she claims that ‘believes’ she was raped by more than one person. How would she know that?

        I get the feeling that she seems to resent that she has to share her victim-hood with the children who had their lives destroyed. The fact that those five children were railroaded doesn’t make her any less a victim.

    • Betty says:

      wait what is problematic about the victim-? I have never heard anything about her.

      Also they created more then five victims- he raped 8 other women and murdered another with her children within ear shot.

      That man and the NYPD ruined countless lives. I am glad these men are getting their story told and i hope they have a good life now.

      • Mumbles says:

        She wrote a book a few years ago and when promoting it, Oprah asked a natural question that a lot of people thought, what were you thinking jogging at night in a secluded region? Well Basic Becky got all worked up about this black woman DARING to question her white lady privilege. And she refuses to acknowledge DNA evidence and has taken Fairstein and the NYPD’s side.

      • Jadedone says:

        Mumbles so Oprah victim blamed her and she got pissed? I don’t see that anything wrong with her response but I see a ton wrong with that question. “Becky got all worked up about this black woman daring to question her privillege”, what privillege was that? The privillege most women want, the privillege to run without fear of being murdered?? Seriously??

      • Mina says:

        Did Oprah really went the were you asking for it way? How disappointing. I didn’t know being able to jog safely as night was white lady privilege, you’d think it should be anyone’s privilege.

      • Otaku fairy... says:

        That’s a no. This would be like calling a Muslim man or a man of color from any ethnic/religious background a male-privileged misogynist just because he didn’t appreciate a white woman chastising him about his whereabouts or ‘tone’ when he is the survivor of a hate crime or racial profiling.

  2. Léna says:

    I watched it on the bus from Munich to Prague on Sunday evening and I cried so hard. I was so angry and almost stopped watching. But I think this story needs to be told.
    I really like it. it really resonates with what’s still happening today.

  3. Betty says:

    I am building myself up to watch this as I know its going to be emotional but I believe it is a must see.

    I am glad Ava made this mini series and that it has led to so many larger conversations about police and proprietorial misconduct (which is a very generous description of what they did), but also I read an article yesterday about all the women the actual guilty man raped and MURDERED that wouldn’t have happened if the NYPD wasn’t so determined to destroy these children.

    I am hope these men find peace and get all the good things in life they deserved as children, and I hope we all work to change the system and make it better.

  4. Lola says:

    I was wondering if you guys were going to cover this, it’s so good and so bad at the same time.

    I started watching, still have to start episode 4, not sure I’m mentally prepared for it. Read it was even more gut wrenching than episode 1 and 2, and those had me alternating between crying and being pissed off, even with constant breaks while watching each.

  5. Chimney says:

    Watched the first two episodes of this and had to stop because I couldn’t stop sobbing. My heart breaks for these boys. People, especially white people have difficulty seeing that black children are just kids and worthy protection. They just swept these kids up as fodder for the machine with no regard for their lives and humanity. All while letting a violent attacker roam the streets because playing politics matter more than justice. An important reminder that racism (and white supremacy) is a structure not an event, we all live under it.

    Ended up watching a bunch of baby animal videos after and will finish the rest tonight. Ava DeVernay is a powerful director, hope she’s working for years to come.

  6. Jen says:

    This is an extremely difficult watch. I had to fast forward through some of episode 4-it’s incredibly well done and the actors are excellent, but wanted to share that warning.

  7. JRenee says:

    5 boys of color systematically oppressed, accused and locked away although innocent. DNA of true assailant, Matias Reyes only was found and yet these 5 railroaded to jail.
    Remember trump taking out the ad against them?
    Linda Fairstein is about the money only. I’m sure there are more she sent to jail who are innocent. And there are probably thousands more of innocent men/boys of color unjustly locked up. Effed up!!

    • Mina says:

      Matias Reyes’ DNA was only identified years later, when he confessed to the crime. Before it was just “unknown male DNA”, and while it shows that there wasn’t physical evidence that connected the CPF to the crime, the fact that more than one witness claimed Meili was attacked by several people give the prosecution enough ammunition to go through with their feeble case.

  8. Snazzy says:

    I’m going to be honest, I’m not sure I have the emotional strength to watch this. I know I should…

  9. Flying Fish says:

    The Central Park Five were picked up for being Black Boys…
    I was living in NYC when this all occurred and it was painful then and its still painful to recount now. This situation made me start to worry about my own brothers and how they would be treated by the NYPD and the world at large.
    I love DuVernay’s work but I cannot watch this.

  10. Charlotte says:

    This miniseries is seriously worth watching . Aside from shedding light on what happened, it also showed how (innocent) people can become criminals/turn to crime after being in jail, reminded me of ‘the night of’ in that respect.

  11. BlueSky says:

    I’m so glad Ava gave these young men a voice and a platform to tell their stories. That terrible prosecutor is already experiencing fallout from this and I hope it continues. I’m old enough to remember when this happened. I’m sure all those involved would hope these men would fade away. I’m glad that has not happened.

  12. NewKay says:

    I haven’t been able to watch it- because I am
    Black and it just hits too close to home.

  13. Mina says:

    I’ve always been fascinated and saddened by this case, and I liked Ava’s take on it although I do think they glossed over some of the facts of the real story (what they were accused of by several witnesses wasn’t “boys being boys and only in hindsight I guess she could downplay it like that). I was only a tad uncomfortable about the portrayal of Linda Fairstein in it. She messed up with the Central Park Five for sure but she’s been one of the most vocal defenders of women’s rights and against rapists and predators, she felt pretty one dimensional here for me. I’ve seen her refer to other (white) rapists as animals so I’m not entirely convinced it was just racism what fueled her overzealousness here.

  14. JByrdKU says:

    I don’t particularly care why the “boys” were out that night and what their intentions were, what I care about was that jogger. I think it’s so easy for people to forget that that lady went for a job that night, and was so severely raped and beaten that it’s a legit miracle she’s alive.

    I understand there were many “victims” as a result of that night, but it bothers me that no one is putting up this much of a stink about that lady and getting justice for her. Where are the documentaries about she was held down and violated? Seriously.

    • BlueSky says:

      She wrote a book. You can be outraged for both. You can be outraged at the violent assault this woman suffered, how the system failed her and other rape victims AND be outraged at the injustice these boys dealt with.

    • kerwood says:

      The victim got justice. Her rapist was sent to prison. But he was able to continue to rape and murder (women of colour) because the NYPD weren’t interested in finding the man who brutalized Black and Brown women. She got more justice than they did.

      • Mina says:

        She didn’t get justice. The confirmed rapist was in prison for other crimes and by the time he confessed to Meili’s attack, it had prescribed so he was never tried or convicted for it (and that also means the public and the victim herself never got crucial information that would have come up in a trial). Just because he’s in jail doesn’t mean she got justice, quite the opposite actually because now she has to wonder what that mock of a trial with these five kids was.

        Reyes had tried to rape a woman in Central Park just two days before he attacked Meili, which makes you think the cops should have definitely made a connection there, but unfortunately that victim left town after the attack and that investigation wasn’t continued. It was all one huge chain of errors, misjudgment and tunnel vision.

  15. Valerie says:

    Yup. Eff Trump for his role in it, and in general.

  16. kerwood says:

    I saw the documentary at TIFF a few years ago. When it was over, I couldn’t move. I just sat there and sobbed until the man who was cleaning the theatre told me I had to leave.

    I honestly don’t know if I can watch this; the trailer was too much. But I know I HAVE to, if only to honour those five Black children who were brutalized by an entire city BECAUSE THEY WERE BLACK CHILDREN.

    There are a lot of reasons to hate Donald Trump but I will hate him forever for what he did to those boys. How Americans could elect this abomination President of the United States is something that I will never EVER be able to understand.

  17. Deering24 says:

    It makes me sick Fairstein went on to much success on the basis of this. However, karma may be kicking in…https://jezebel.com/linda-fairstein-has-resigned-from-victim-assistance-non-1835258165