Made infamous when they were wrongfully prosecuted in the 1980s, the five men who inspired Netflix‘s critically acclaimed miniseries When They See Us walked the Emmys red carpet on Sunday night — this time more like stars.
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were invited to the awards show by Ava DuVernay, the writer-director of When They See Us, who has said she was inspired to tell the story of their prosecution and exoneration after a tweet from Santana himself.
“They are all my date for the Emmys … I’m going to have them all out,” DuVernay, 47, said in August.
Her miniseries premiered in May to glowing reception and, according to Netflix, an audience of tens of millions. It received 16 Emmy nominations, including for outstanding limited series as well as for its writing, casting, cinematography and acting. Four of the actors playing the “Central Park Five” earned nods.
“It is bittersweet, because watching this is painful, but it’s necessary,” Richardson told Oprah Winfrey in an accompanying interview special earlier this year.
One of the most notorious criminal cases in New York City’s history began in April 1989, after a young investment banker went for a run in Central Park and was raped and brutally beaten.
McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana an Wise (all between the ages of 14 and 16) were soon arrested and subsequently detained for hours by police. They would later testify that they were under duress when they falsely confessed to being responsible. The woman never remembered the details of her assault.
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Though they escaped the death penalty, all five of the boys were sent to prison after being convicted of various charges in the attack. Their freedom came years later when Matias Reyes confessed in 2002 to the rape, and his culpability was confirmed by DNA evidence.
Eventually the exonerated five, now all adults, won a settlement from N.Y.C. for about $40 million, per the Times.
“Ava was always my choice to do this series,” Santana told The New York Times in May, pointing to what he called the boldness of her Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, Selma, including King’s flaws. “By showing that, it showed the human side of this man who was put on a pedestal. And it told me that she had no fear of telling the truth.”
In interviews with the actors who portrayed them as children and adults in When They See Us, Santana told the Times he was struck at the authenticity of the performances.
“We watch them, the way they interact with each other — we really sit there and go, ‘That’s us,’ ” Santana said. “And Antron, when I said it, he started to tear up. He’s like, ‘Come on, Ray, man!’ You see the brotherhood. We were like, ‘Wow, that’s us, the childhood that we lost is being displayed right in front of us.’ “
As Richardson told Oprah: “I’m so happy and ecstatic that we can start the conversation now and make sure there will never be another ‘Central Park Five.’ “
The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards are airing live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles starting at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.