In 1989, five young men of color were accused of beating and raping a white woman in Central Park—and now their story is being told in Ava DuVernay's Netflix miniseries When They See Us.
The men, known as the Central Park Five, were wrongfully accused and convicted of numerous crimes, and their convictions have since been overturned.
Each of the five men served between five and 12 years in prison.
The Netflix miniseries When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay, made waves in Hollywood when it premiered last year, telling the true story of the Central Park Five. Last week, Netflix added the show to its inaugural Black Lives Matter collection, and it's been one of the platform's most-streamed shows of the month. It also won a much-deserved Peabody award last week.
The Central Park Five, now known as the Exonerated Five, were a group of Black and Latinx boys between the ages of 14 and 16 who were wrongfully accused of raping and beating a woman known as the Central Park Jogger in 1989.
One of the five, Raymond Santana, tweeted at DuVernay in 2015 about his "#wishfulthinking" that she would make a film about their experience, and she direct-messaged him right away.
"It wasn't an idea that I pitched to them," DuVernay told the Hollywood Reporter in May 2019. "It was an idea that they pitched to me, and I was honored that they chose me."
At first, she wasn't sure she could make the film, she told Rolling Stone. "But once I met him and then gradually met all of the other men, I felt like I had to make it," Duvernay explained.
Beyond the infamous trial itself, When They See Us depicts what it's like to be a young Black man in America, and DuVernay kept counselors on set for the actors and crew members, in case the scenes hit too close to home. "It's the fear of being a young Black teen in the streets of New York City," Michael K. Williams, who portrayed one of the boys' fathers, told THR. "Fearing that I'm going to get snatched up, and the impact it had on some of my bad decision-making as a young adult. A lot of those personal things came up."
The five teenage boys (who are now in their mid-forties) were accused of raping and brutally beating Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white woman jogging in Central Park after work. Meili was found naked, tied up, and gagged near a wooded section of the park, according to the New York Times. She woke up from a coma 12 days later with no memory of what happened.
Before their convictions were overturned, each member of the Exonerated Five spent a significant amount of time in prison. Here's how much time they served before their 2002 exonerations:
Found guilty of rape and assault, according to the Innocence Project (the organization that eventually helped exonerate the men), Salaam was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison when he was 14 years old. He was released after 6 years and 8 months.
Since his release, Salaam has become a father, inspirational speaker, and the recipient of a 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award given to him by President Barack Obama.
At 16 years old, Wise was convicted of assault, sexual abuse, and riot, per the Innocence Project. He served 12 years in prison for his five-to-15-year sentence. Of the five boys, Wise was the only one tried as an adult.
"When I first met Korey, within 15 minutes he said, 'There is no Central Park Five, it’s four plus one,'" DuVernay told Rolling Stone. "And I never forgot that. He looked me in the eyes and he said, 'They had an experience, and I had an experience. They are not the same.' He had some pain and some anger about being lumped in to the Central Park Five when the four were in juvenile hall detention. They eventually all went to adult prison, but they got out when he was continuing to serve time. And he was always in an adult prison; he never experienced juvenile detention."
After changing his first name to Korey from Kharey, Wise donated $190,000 (a portion of the $41 million dollar the Exonerated Five were awarded by the state of New York) to the Innocence Project. The Colorado chapter of the organization is now named after him. He is an advocate for those who've been wrongly convicted and lives in New York.
Richardson served five and a half years of his five-to-10-year sentence, according to the Innocence Project. He was charged and convicted at 14 years old for attempted murder, rape, sodomy, and robbery.
Richardson, now married with children, works with the Innocence Project, speaking about criminal justice reform.
For a crime he did not commit, Santana was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for rape and assault. He served five years, per the Innocence Project, from ages 14 to 19.
Santana is now living in Georgia with his daughter. He started a clothing company called Park Madison NYC, per People. Some of the apparel features Santana's mugshot and the names of the Exonerated Five, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the Innocence Project.
At 15 years old, Antron McCray was convicted of rape and assault, per the Innocence Project, and sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. He served six years before his exoneration.
Today, McCray is a father living in Georgia and working as a forklift operator, according to Elle.
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