Non-Blog | Channing Whitaker

What I've Been Watching: June 2019


By total coincidence, I think, my pick for what I've been watching lately also deals with race issues in the USA. The Netflix miniseries, When They See Us, premiered about a month ago, and I heard good things immediately. The series is a dramatization of the real-life incident which became known as the Central Park Jogger Case and the alleged attackers being known as the Central Park Five. I was only about 6 years old when the real incident occurred, and if it was making the news in rural Iowa, I wasn't aware of it. I only really learned of the topic when Ken Burns and Sarah Burns made a documentary in 2012. If you're not familiar, long story short, several teenagers' rights were trampled and were falsely convicted of the crimes, only to be exonerated and released years later, and racism was the primary factor in why there were targeted, mistreated by police, and ultimately falsely convicted.

In this series, Ava DuVernay delves deeper into the lives and relationships destroyed by the case. Not just the lives of promising young men, but their families and friends, and how the convictions haunted them inside and outside of prison. The story is compelling, but all the facets DuVernay shows are profound and gripping.
Subject aside, I was incredibly impressed with the acting talent on display in this work. With this being an ensemble piece, with each of the five boys' lives on display, it is inherent that the spotlight will be shared, but through the episodes, we see all five boys as teens, then as adults. One actor, who portrayed the oldest of the teens, played his adult counterpart as well. All the others were portrayed by two actors, one a teen, the other an adult. On top of this, we get to know a dozen or more family members, a half dozen characters in the police and prosecution, plus fellow inmates, prison workers, defense lawyers, and people the five encounter after release. Through all these characters, in my opinion, you won't find a weak link in acting talent. That's not astonishing from such longtime veteran names like John Leguizamo, Michael Kenneth Williams, Joshua Jackson, Niecy Nash, Felicity Huffman, and William Sadler, just to name a handful, but through all the other roles, which vary from unknown character actors to the youth talent, the performance never lapses for a moment. And remember, this is a straight to Netflix piece, not a Marvel blockbuster, or a network product.

The themes are important, the subject touching and thought-provoking, the direction stellar, but the acting talent was flooring. No wonder it boasts an average of 9.1 out of 10 with over 27,000 viewers via IMDB. Go watch it!
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