Ava DuVernay has done it again. Her latest project, the Netflix drama mini-series, When They See Us, has become the most-watched series on the platform in the US since its premiere on May 31st, 2019. The news of the show’s massive success was shared on Twitter by Netflix last Wednesday, and everyone, starting with DuVernay herself, is celebrating that the show, which is based on a true story, is not only critically acclaimed, but also a popular hit.
When They See Us is a four-part mini-series created, co-written, and directed by DuVernay, who is known for telling stories that reflect the many injustices that affect the black community in the US. The series takes us back to 1989 in New York City, when five young men of color were arrested and prosecuted for various charges related to the rape and assault of a white woman in Central Park. They became known as the Central Park Five, and their trial and the media circus that surrounded it were defined by racism and lack of evidence.
They were all convicted in 1990 and served their sentences in full, only to be exonerated of all charges in 2002, when the actual culprit, who was already in prison for rape and murder, confessed to the crime.
The series has been overwhelmingly praised for doing exactly what its name says: telling the story of these five young men and bringing to the light not only the horror that they experienced at the hands of a racist justice system, but also the fullness of their humanity, allowing the viewer to empathize with them and finally “see” them thirty years after the events that changed their lives forever.
As it happens when stories like these are told properly, the millions of people who have watched the series and shared their thoughts online all agree that it is incredibly hard to watch and that getting to know these characters and all that they went through at such a young age made them sad and angry, but that, for that same reason, it is an extremely enlightening experience and a must-watch for everyone in the US.
Even the briefest glance at the news is enough to see that stories like the one in When They See Us are not a thing of the past, and that the racism and injustice explored in the series continue to affect the lives of people of color in this country. So, yes, the series is not the kind of show that’ll warm our hearts or make us feel better about the world, but the fact that people like Ava DuVernay are telling stories like this and that people are listening is a great sign and points to a more hopeful future for television.
Cover picture: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix
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