Why everybody is talking about new Netflix series 'When They See Us'

04 June 2019 - 06:18 By Cebelihle Bhengu
Ava DuVernay (right) with cast members of her newly released Netflix series 'When They See Us'.
Ava DuVernay (right) with cast members of her newly released Netflix series 'When They See Us'.
Image: Instragram/ Ava DuVernay

The newly released, four-part Netflix series When They See Us is making waves around the globe for its compelling narrative about five boys known as "the Central Park Five".  

Here's what you need to know about the series.

What's it about?

The series tells the events leading to the wrongful conviction of five teenage boys - four of whom were black and one Hispanic.

Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson were coerced into admitting to raping and assaulting 28-year-old Trisha Meili in 1989 in Central Park, New York.

The boys were convicted, despite no physical evidence linking them to the crime. 

Four of the boys were younger than 16 at the time and were taken to a juvenile prison, while Wise was locked up in an adult prison as he was 16 years old.

The boys, who spent over 10 years in prison, were released when the real person behind the crime, Matias Reyes, admitted to the crime.

DNA evidence confirmed that Reyes had raped Meili. He admitted to the crime after encountering one of the Central Park Five, Wise, in prison on two separate occasions.

What does the title mean?

The brains behind the series, director, producer and filmmaker Ava DuVernay, told The Daily Show that the reason she changed the title from The Central Park Five to When They See Us was to ask the pertinent question of how the boys were found guilty without any evidence.

She also said she wanted to reveal their real identities, which is "teenage boys who were ripped out of their youth".

Public reaction

Since its release on Friday, the series has already evoked anger from thousands of people, who took to social media platforms to lash out at the American justice system.

The role of Donald Trump

Another important part of the story is the role played by current US president Donald Trump. He was among powerful private citizens who at the time called for the boys to be executed.

According to the series, Trump paid for adverts in four publications calling for the death penalty to be brought back in response to news of the rape and assault.