The Central Park Five were exonerated in 2002 after a serial rapist confessed to the attack, with DNA linking him to the crime. Their wrongful convictions, secured in two separate 1990 trials, and the political climate that had enabled them, became the subject of a 2012 documentary by Ken Burns. The men, who spent between seven and 13 years in prison, reached a $40 million settlement with the city two years later.
In 2016, the case made headlines again when President Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, insisted the men were guilty despite the DNA evidence that had freed them. In 1989, less than a month after the attack, Trump made himself a peripheral figure in the case when he took out full-page ads in the New York Daily News and other newspapers urging the city to “bring back the death penalty.” DuVernay explored Trump’s stance on the Central Park Five in her Oscar-nominated 2016 documentary, “13th.”
“When They See Us,” which premieres May 31, follows the Central Park Five across decades — from their 1989 interrogations to their exoneration in 2002 and the settlement they reached with the city 12 years later. The series counts Oprah Winfrey and Robert De Niro among its producers and has an all-star cast, including Michael K. Williams, John Leguizamo, Vera Farmiga, Niecy Nash and Joshua Jackson.
The series also features Felicity Huffman, one of the actresses embroiled in the college admissions scandal. Huffman, who has agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy and fraud charge, plays Linda Fairstein, one of the prosecutors in the Central Park Five case. As the chief of the sex-crimes unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Fairstein oversaw the prosecution of the five teens.
As The Post’s Meagan Flynn reported, the Mystery Writers of America found itself enmeshed in controversy last November after awarding its Grand Master title to the former prosecutor, who has written a series of novels inspired by her past line of work. Two days later, the group put out a statement saying it would withdraw the honor after receiving criticism from “a large percentage” of its members.
Like Trump, Fairstein has maintained over the years that the Central Park Five are not innocent. Last year, she publicly defended the prosecution’s methods in obtaining the teens’ confessions, which she said were not coerced. Amid the fallout of her rescinded award, Fairstein insinuated the Central Park Five were at least responsible for other attacks that occurred that night.
On Friday, DuVernay shared the trailer for the upcoming series on Twitter, where she said that “the story you know is the lie that police, prosecutors and Donald Trump told you.”
“ 'When They See Us’ is the story of the boys from their eyes and their hearts,” she wrote.