When They See Us





Kristin Smith

TV Series Review

In the Spring of 1989, a 28-year-old white female was raped and left for dead in New York City. Days later, a group of five, young black and Hispanic adolescent boys, who happened to be at a nearby park, were arrested and, according to the teens and their families, unlawfully interrogated.

After that? Investigators forced them to confess and afterward they were sent to juvenile detention and prison. What followed were years of abuse and corruption in the justice system. Twelve years later, in 2002, they were exonerated.

When They Don’t See You

Netflix’ new, original miniseries, When They See Us, is based on the stories of these five boys (Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam) who came to be known as the Central Park Five. The series tells us that they were robbed of their childhood, dignity and humanity,—convicted of a crime they did not commit.

The show, watched more than 23 million times, became one of Netflix’s buzziest programs since its release in late May. It’s designed, according to DuVernay, as a dive deep “into the different phases of the criminal-justice experience.” Divided into four episodes, each piece is treated as a narrative, giving viewers an in-depth look at how the justice system failed these five youth.

The first part, DuVernay told Entertainment Weekly, “is all about police interaction, precinct behavior [and] bail.” The second “is about court and plea trial and the ways in which we’re processed through the legal system.” The third, “is about juvenile detention and post incarceration, how formerly incarcerated people are treated in this country.” And the fourth “is about incarceration itself.”

Pain in the Process

DuVernay is no stranger to difficult storytelling. Director of the Oscar-nominated Selma, DuVernay knows how to captivate an audience. But some audiences aren’t happy with the details of her newest creation. The show has been accused of taking a few artistic and narrative liberties. But whether every detail is spot-on or not, this Netflix original is captivating—and excruciating.

Many scenes are incredibly difficult to watch. DuVernay makes you feel those moments of injustice, racism and innocence lost. There are glimpses of hope, but know that this show is properly rated TV-MA. Graphic verbal descriptions of rape and assault are heard a couple lies in bed together, partially clothed. Oral sex is hinted at (though we don’t see anything) and teens kiss and flirt. . A transgender character is in the mix, as well, and drug dealing is referenced. In addition to all of that, the prison beatings, combined with corrupt officials, make this an extremely difficult and challenging series to watch.

Episode Reviews

May 31, 2019: “Episode 1”

In the first of four episodes, teens Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam are arrested, unlawfully interrogated and forced into confessing to the rape and near killing of 28-year-old Trish Meili.

Young boys are hit, punched, knocked out and thrown up against the wall by detectives and police officials. A few teen boys beat up a boy their age. A detective graphically describes how a woman is beaten and raped and crudely asks some of the boys in question about their anatomy. Similarly, a detective graphically asks questions about rape and sex. Detectives work to smudge details of a rape. Officials coerce and blackmail kids and their parents.

A young teen boy and his girlfriend flirt, kiss and hold hands. A married couple kisses and lies in bed together. A man goes shirtless. Men and women alike smoke cigarettes.

Young black and Hispanic boys are referred to as “animals” numerous times and other racist terms are heard. A homophobic slur is used. God’s name is abused once, paired with “d–mit.” The f-word is heard more than five times and the s-word four times.

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Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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