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‘When They See Us’ Tells Story of Wrongfully Convicted Teens of Color

The newly released teaser trailer for Ava Duvernay’s limited series When They See Usabout the wrongful conviction of five teenage boys of color in the Central Park Five case is already making waves on social media. Described by DuVernay as a “film in four parts,” it tells the story of five black and Latino teens who were wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman jogging in Central Park in 1989.

The minute-long teaser released Friday transitions from a young boy in a bedroom featuring sports trophies to the group in custody. The voice over is a mother saying, “You watch them grow, and you start to think you did a good job. And then one night, you look away.”

The “Central Park Five” as they became known were Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise who were between the ages of 14-16 at the time of their arrest.

The Selma director co-wrote and directed all four parts of the series and tweeted: Not thugs. Not wilding. Not criminals. Not even the Central Park Five,” she wrote. “They are Korey, Antron, Raymond, Yusef, Kevin. They are millions of young people of color who are blamed, judged and accused on sight.”

They received sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years and spent between 6 and 13 years in prison before they were exonerated after the real rapist confessed and DNA results proved their innocence.

The film spans 25 years of the notorious case, including their exoneration in 2002 and the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014 for $41 million. At the time President Donald Trump took out $85,000 in ads calling for the teens to receive the death penalty.

Despite their exoneration, Trump maintained his hard stance. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same,” he told CNN during the 2016 election. 

The cast includes Jovan Adepo, Jharrel Jerome, Chris Chalk, Justin Cunningham, and Freddy Miyares as the core group. The ensembles also include Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Niecy Nash, Kylie Bunbury, Felicity Huffman, Adepero Oduye, Storm Reid, Blair Underwood, and Famke Janssen.

According to Gothamist, in a previous statement about the series, DuVernay said,In their journey, we witness five innocent young men of color who were met with injustice at every turn —  from coerced confessions to unjust incarceration to public calls for their execution by the man who would go on to be the President of the United States.”

The film airs on Netflix on May 31.