Director Ava DuVernay’s new limited Netflix series “When They See Us” is bringing justice to the story of the Central Park Five and she is opening up to The Hollywood Reporter about the project in the magazine’s latest cover story.
In a story that divided the U.S., five young black teenagers – Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise – were convicted of a rape they did not commit in 1989. Their convictions were vacated more than a decade later in 2002 after another man confessed to the rape of Central Park jogger Trisha Meili with DNA evidence confirming his guilt.
The case also marks one of the first instances of politically-charged grandstanding by Donald Trump.
“It made him feel like a player and important,” DuVernay says, explaining why Trump chose to insert himself into the narrative, taking out full-page ads in daily newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty for the teens.
“Press conferences ensued. He was on CNN. Those are all the things that we know he wanted at that time. By doing this, he got quite a bit of attention, and still is getting it for doing the same kinds of things,” she continues. “I don’t think it was for any real desire to seek justice for Trisha Meili, because if he did feel that way he would have sought it for [Brett Kavanaugh accuser] Christine Blasey Ford. It was an opportunity, and he’s an opportunist.”
But don’t expect to see an actor portraying Trump in “When They See Us”, since DuVernay opted to only show Trump in archival news footage.
“I decided I was telling the story of the men,” DuVernay tells THR. “They knew a rich, kind of bloated, flamboyant guy who owned buildings across town had said something about them. They were much more concerned with their families and their lives than some guy in a golden tower.”
Fourteen years after they were exonerated, Trump was still talking about their guilt. In 2016 he told CNN: “They admitted they were guilty,” despite the boys’ confessions having been ruled false and coerced years prior.
“When They See Us” arrives on Netflix on May 31.