The Oscar-nominated filmmaker will tackle the story of the Central Park Five for Netflix.
It was any boy’s worst nightmare — falsely accused of rape, convicted through coerced confession and forced to serve nearly a decade in jail. For Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise it was a reality. No band of boys ever garnered more publicity than the five youths that became known as Central Park Five. The five black boys that were convicted of the brutal assault of female jogger, Trisha Meili, quickly became the face of urban terror and newspapers bashed the youths with headlines as brutal as calling them wolves. The iconic conviction that proved to be unjust years later still stands as a landmark in the criminal justice system, particularly in regards to the treatment of black suspects. Everything about the Central Park Five screams controversy and downright injustice, and there may be no better woman to cinematically cover the topic besides writer/director Ava DuVernay.
The same wonder woman that brought us the Netflix documentary 13th will once again unveil the treacheries of the US criminal justice system in her upcoming Netflix miniseries. The adaptation of the Central Park Five’s story will be split up into five episodes that will focus on each boy and each phase of the case spanning from 1989 to 2014. Though the subject was covered once before by Ken Burns in a long form PBS documentary, this upcoming series is given extra weight with DuVernay’s involvement. The Oscar-nominated doc, 13th, was so standout in its coverage of racial mass incarceration that it received a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary in 2017.
“I had an extraordinary experience working with Netflix on 13th and am overjoyed to continue this exploration of the criminal justice system as a narrative project with Cindy Holland and the team there,” DuVernay gushed in a statement announcing the miniseries.
Feelings at Netflix appear to be mutual Netflix’s VP of original content, Holland also commented on the upcoming miniseries, “This is one of the most talked-about cases of our time, and Ava’s passionate vision and masterful direction will bring the human stories behind the headlines to life in this series.”
If Holland’s statement resonates, it’s because DuVernay’s track record is filled with thoughtful explorations of Black tragedy. Not only because she worked on 13th, but also due to the fact that she directed and produced the 2014 film Selma, based on the epic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Selma’s depiction of the civil rights movement and its flinch-worthy horrors are presented unapologetically and it’s critical that the Central Park Five case is told in a similar light; bluntly but tastefully so viewers can gain an understanding of the horrors that were subjected upon five innocent boys. One of the boys, Salaam, even recounts hearing fellow suspect, Wise, being beaten in the interrogation room next door to his as he was threatened by police in his own — a truly horrific scene especially for a fifteen-year-old. By comparison, the same skills DuVernay used to illustrate the anxiety marchers experienced at Selma will likely be reemployed to the youths as they are slandered and shunned in the series. DuVernay’s passion for the subject matter gives me a sense of security that the episodes will be executed with an impacting manner that will drive a conversation.
Society’s view of minorities, specifically black men is something that is discussed often but not openly; the unspoken systemic racism that consequently lands thousands of black men in jail meanwhile white kids receive probation for the same crimes is most times glossed over without comprehension of what the effects could have. The Central Park Five represent, sadly, a small percentage of black men wrongly convicted of crimes. The hope is that through this miniseries, some exposure will be provided to those still awaiting their freedom behind bars.
The timing for this series is also uncanny considering the recent judicial backlash involving the death of Philando Castile. Adding additional relevance to our current political moment, it was Donald Trump, long before his Presidential bid, who made a campaign out of his desire to see the boys persecuted following the attack in 1989. Trump spent a reported $85,000 on full-page ads in major daily newspapers, calling for the renewal of the death penalty. And though in 2002, a convicted murderer, Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime, which was also confirmed by DNA evidence, Donald Trump has stated as recent as 2016, that he believes the Central Park Five are still guilty.
Being that even our current president shows little regard to the injustices projected on his own citizens, colored or not, only validates the importance of filmmakers like Ava DuVernay. The best way to propel change is through discussion and this series stands a chance to ignite the kind of dialogue that we need.
Though the currently unnamed series is set to land on Netflix in 2019, fans of Ava DeVernay can still anticipate a second season of Queen Sugar on OWN and a 2017 big-budget adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time at Disney.