'Words can be weaponized': Ava DuVernay on the Central Park jogger case and America's failed justice system

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay discusses her new Netflix series When They See Us, which looks at the 1989 Central Park jogger case and the five men who were convicted and later exonerated in the case.
Jharrel Jerome and Vera Farmiga in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series When They See Us. (Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix)

Originally published on June 3, 2019

On the night of April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old New York investment banker, went for a jog in Central Park where she was assaulted and raped.

Five young men were convicted — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam — four of whom were black and one Latino. Police and media described their activity as part of something called "wilding," and the men would come to be referred to as the Central Park Five.

"The idea that words can be weaponized against us as young people of colour, words that didn't exist, that didn't have the meaning that was being attributed to them and could actually be twisted and become something that was used to criminalize us really stuck with me," says Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who's written and directed When They See Us, a new Netflix series about the Central Park jogger case.

She joined q's Tom Power to tell us why it was important to bring these five men's stories to the small screen 30 years later.

When They See Us is on Netflix now.

— Produced by Tyrone Callender

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