Ava DuVernay on Her New Netflix Series “When They See Us”

In 1989-1990, five teenage boys of color were falsely convicted of the rape and vicious assault of a white investment banker in Central Park. The men became known as the “Central Park Five.” Director and writer Ava DuVernay took up the five men’s story at their personal request, resulting in her new Netflix series “When They See Us”. She joins the program from LA.

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AVA DUVERNAY, CREATOR, CO-WRITER & DIRECTOR, “WHEN THEY SEE US”: Well, there’s a terrific documentary by Sarah and Ken Burns that explored the case, chronicled the legal aspects of the case. I was very interested in the boys. The boys who had become men, their families, the effect of the incarceration, of one boy on a whole community. And so, we really wanted to look at this case from a space of the legalities, yes, but also the humanity that we don’t talk about hardly enough.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So, what was it that brought you to it then?

DUVERNAY: A tweet, believe it or not. Social media. It was Raymond Santana, one of the five men who tweeted me and asked me after he’d seen “Selma,” would I consider making a story about the Central Park Five. And so, I proceeded to have some correspondence with him and eventually met all of the men. And as soon as I met them all, I felt instantly connected and very driven to make sure that their story was told, but not just their story, that the intimacy, humanity and personal nature of the story beyond the headlines was known.

AMANPOUR: And your first — I mean, the first part — rather, the first episode in this series really doesn’t happen in court. It doesn’t happen in Central Park. It’s in their homes, right? You are making us see them as people and as one reviewer said, the innocence that they once were and the innocence that they lost and the innocence they still always insisted on.

DUVERNAY: That’s true. That’s true. We begin on a spring day. It was April 19, 1989 when these five boys, Black and Brown boys, were kind of ripped out of their youth. And it was the last day they were ever boys, the last day they were ever kids. And so, we start on this day and you just see boys being boys. And, you know, talking to their families, talking to their friends. And then a horrible tragedy befalls them. You know, there were six victims that day. It was Trisha Meili who was — the woman who was raped and assaulted viciously by someone who was not properly pursued. And then you have these five boys who there was never any DNA evidence connecting them to the crime, there was never a weapon, there was never any physical evidence. All that the prosecutors had were these coerced [13:25:00] statements. And so, in the film, we show how those statements came to be.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with Nigel Sheinwald about President Trump’s visit to the UK; and Ava DuVernay about her new Netflix series “When They See Us” about the Central Park Five. Walter Isaacson speaks with magician David Kwong about his show “The Enigmatist.”