When They See Us is a new legal drama series released through Netflix and created by Emmy winner Ava DuVernay. It follows a group of African-American boys from Harlem in 1989 picked up by the police in connection to a rape in Central Park. During the questioning, the boys are pressured by the police into lying on tape, and a lengthy trial follows revealing the corruption, malice, and above all, racism of the law enforcement and legal systems.
When They See Us is based on a true story, which enhances the series’ horrifying nature. In just four hours of this four-part miniseries, When They See Us explores the poignant story of not only five boys, but also their mothers, their fathers, the media, the city, and a legal system meant to serve the people but instead tears families apart and destroys people’s lives. Despite taking place primarily in 1989 and spanning decades, the story of When They See Us is shockingly applicable today, even featuring a subplot of Donald Trump’s real reaction to this case at the time it was in the news. The boys’ stories are surprisingly similar to a lot of stories we hear today, and the challenging questions this series poses have still not been solved. Questions about racial equality and prejudice in the media and the court system, and about people trying to solve or at least address these problems, but to little avail. Ava DuVernay and his production crew are trying to address these problems, and I believe it’s helping.
In my opinion, the most effective way to address problems like these in modern-day America is not in the courtroom or in politics, but in media. In the digital age, news stories like these are reaching more people, and highly accessible sites like Netflix allow for these experiences to be broadcast. When They See Us accomplishes the fundamental purpose of political or social art: to make change through a form that has a lot of exposure.
When They See Us and series like it are important in making change in America. Other than the political and social aspects of it, this show is a well-executed and emotionally potent drama. If there is one criticism to this show, it’s its brevity. The show has a lot to cover, decades in fact, in just 4 hours. It moves quickly, maybe too quickly at times. But every part is played brilliantly, and, despite the speed, the show definitely flows. When They See Us is an important, effective and powerful story, and easily a standout series on Netflix right now.