9 books and movies to check out after watching When They See Us
Directed and written by Ava DuVernay, and starring the likes of Jovan Adepo, Niecy Nash, Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, and many others, the series tells the true story of the wrongful rape convictions and subsequent imprisonment of five young men of color who would come to be known as the Central Park Five.
Roots star LeVar Burton called the four-part show “essential viewing for every American.” Viewers left wanting to learn even more after watching When They See Us are in luck as it’s hardly the only piece of pop culture dedicated or related to the case.
Here are nine other books, movies, and more to check out if you want to learn more about the Central Park Five or related issues:
The Central Park Five
This 2012 documentary from writers and directors Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon is a nearly two hours-long deep dive into the case and its aftermath. It’s inspired in part by Sarah Burns’ 2011 book of the same name. Burns worked closely with the young men, and her book “recounts this historic case for the first time since the young men’s convictions were overturned, telling, at last, the full story of one of New York’s most legendary crimes,” according to its Amazon page.
I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility
In this 2004 book, the victim of the attack, Trisha Meili, tells her story. Meili walks us through who she was before the incident, as well as the woman she would become in its aftermath, including her journey to learn how to walk, talk, read, and write again. As the title suggests, it’s a story that focuses on hope and “the mesmerizing, inspiring, often wrenching story of human strength and transcendent recovery.”
Savage Portrayals: Race, Media and the Central Park Jogger Story
Natalie Byfield’s 2014 book takes a different approach to the story by analyzing how the media portrayed the case. Byfield covered the Central Park Five story for the New York Daily News, and uses her perspective as a black female reporter to illuminate “the race, class, and gender bias in the massive media coverage of the crime and the prosecution of the now-exonerated defendants.” She argues that the racialized coverage of the case strengthened efforts across the country to try juveniles as adults.
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America
In this 2016 book, Elizabeth Hinton challenges the notion that America’s prison problem started with the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs. Instead, she traces the rise of mass incarceration to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society social welfare programs during the civil rights era. In a New York Times review of the book, Imani Perry writes, “This is history, but the implications for today are striking. Readers will learn how the militarization of the police that we’ve witnessed in Ferguson and elsewhere had roots in the 1960s…A reader cannot help reckoning with the truth that the problem of police brutality and mass incarceration won’t be remedied with technology and training. Those of us who believe in the principles of democracy and justice would do well to witness, as detailed in Hinton’s pages, the shameful theft of liberty in this so-called land of the free.”
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Civil rights litigator and legal scholar Michelle Alexander challenges that notion that the election of Barack Obama signaled a new “age of colorblindness” in her 2010 book. Instead, she argues, “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Publishers Weekly called the book, “[C]arefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable.”
The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
First published in 2010, Khalil Gibran Muhammad chronicles the idea of black criminality as crucial to the making of modern urban America. According to the book’s description, by “chronicling the emergence of deeply embedded notions of black people as a dangerous race of criminals by explicit contrast to working-class whites and European immigrants, Muhammad reveals the influence such ideas have had on urban development and social policies.” Darryl Pinckney of the New York Review of Books called it a “brilliant work that tells us how directly the past has formed us.”
Oprah Talks to the Central Park Jogger/Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now
While technically not a book or a movie, Queen O herself did an interview with the Central Park Jogger, which appeared in the April 2002 edition of O Magazine. The interview came two years before Meili published her book (see above), but at the time it was considered a break in “her long-standing silence with the media.”
Additionally, on June 12, Netflix and OWN will air Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now, a special hosted by Winfrey focusing on When They See Us. The special will feature two in-depth interviews: one with the cast of When They See Us, and the other with DuVernay and the real-life Central Park Five — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise.
When They See Us