- When They See Us , Ava Duvernay's four-part miniseries about the Central Park Five dropped on Netflix on May 31.
- The When They See Us cast portrays the real people who were wrongfully convicted in the Central Park Jogger case.
- The show has already won a 2019 Emmy for Outstanding Casting in a Limited Series.
Ever since When They See Us , Netflix's miniseries about the Central Park Five, premiered on May 31, viewers (and there are at least 23 million of them, according to a June 25 tweet from director Ava Duvernay) haven't been able to stop talking about the show's four heartbreaking and provocative episodes.
But the horror story told in When They See Us isn't just a drama played out on-screen. It's a very real story of injustice — and the actors in the series play five very real men, as well as the attorneys who prosecuted them. (FYI, the actors did such a good job that the show has already won an Emmy for Outstanding Casting in a Limited Series.)
So, before you watch the show, take a look at the When They See Us cast and the real people they portray.
Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome)
At 16, Korey Wise was the oldest of the five teens convicted — and later exonerated — in the Central Park Jogger case. (As a result, he was also the only one of the so-called "Central Park Five" to be tried and sentenced as an adult.) In When They See Us , both teen Korey and adult Korey are played by 21-year-old Jharrel Jerome , who is now nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his performance.
"It was definitely the most difficult process I've ever had getting into the mindset for a role," Jharrel told the Los Angeles Times of playing Korey in the Netflix miniseries. "This was real life; [Korey] really went through this."
To help understand the emotions that his real-life counterpart went through, Jharrel worked closely with Korey while filming. And today, they've got a special relationship because of it: "He's my brother now," Jharrel told the LA Times . "I look up to him. I look up to his courage. He's taught me so much on how to be strong."
Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse, Chris Chalk)
Yusef Salaam was 15 at the time of his arrest in the Central Park Jogger case, and he went on to serve more than six years in prison before being released and — ultimately — cleared of all charges. In When They See Us , adult Yusef is played by Chris Chalk (of Gotham fame) and teen Yusef is played by Ethan Herisse , who has admitted this breakout role was, at times, a tough one for him.
"It was emotionally taxing at times," Ethan told The New York Times of playing teen Yusef. "I feel like I speak for all of [the cast] when I say that we just wanted to get it right. We really want to tell their truth as best as possible for these men, for this story."
Antron McCray (Caleel Harris, Jovan Adepo)
Antron McCray was also 15 when he falsely confessed to the rape of the Central Park Jogger at the urging of his father, who believed that a confession would allow Antron to go free. Adult Antron is played by Jovan Adepo (who you might have seen in 2016's Fences ) and teen Antron is played by Caleel Harris in When They See Us .
"I really wanted to capture his pain, and those conflicting emotions that he was going through during this trial," Caleel told The New York Times of playing a young Antron. "I really wanted to be so clear that he knew that he was right and that he stood for the truth, and that he had hope because he knew what the truth was."
Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez, Freddy Miyares)
One of the youngest boys convicted in the Central Park Jogger case, Raymond Santana was just 14 at the time of his arrest. He — like Yusef, Antron, and Kevin — received the maximum sentence for boys his age: five to 10 years in a youth correctional facility. Raymond is portrayed by both Freddy Miyares , who played him as an adult, and Marquis Rodriguez , who played him as a teen, in When They See Us .
"I got to use my art and use my craft in an effort to speak truth to power, and to bring to light a story that really needs to be acknowledged and really needs to be looked at and examined very closely," Marquis said in a recent interview with Collider . "So, I think I've changed [since playing Raymond], in that way."
Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk, Justin Cunningham)
Kevin Richardson was also only 14 when he was arrested in connection to the Central Park Jogger case. In When They See Us , he is played by both Asante Blackk (who is nominated for an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy for his role) and Justin Cunningham , who portray him as a teen and adult, respectively.
In an interview with TV Guide , Asante revealed that playing Kevin was more emotionally taxing than other roles he's played before: "Usually it's very easy for me to snap out of the emotion but for [the courtroom conviction] scene, it was crazy hard to snap out of that," he said.
Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman)
Former prosecutor Linda Fairstein was the head of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan District Attorney's office during the Central Park Jogger case. She oversaw the interrogation and trial of the Korey, Yusef, Antron, Raymond, and Kevin and reportedly played a large role in securing their (false) confessions. In When They See Us , Linda is played by actress Felicity Huffman , who was recently sentenced to 14 days in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and honest services fraud in the widely publicized college admissions scandal.
Linda left her position at the Manhattan D.A.'s office in 2002, and has since written a series of crime novels. To this day, however, she still has not apologized for her role in the wrongful incarcerations of the "Central Park Five," instead maintaining that the teens' interrogations were "respectful, dignified, [and] carried out according to the letter of the law and with sensitivity to the young age of the men."
Elizabeth Lederer (Vera Farmiga)
Elizabeth Lederer was the lead attorney for the prosecution in the Central Park Jogger case and continues to practice law in New York today, though she seems to have maintained a lower profile than Linda Fairstein.
Matias Reyes (Reece Noi)
After meeting Korey Wise in prison, convicted rapist and murderer Matias Reyes confessed to being the sole attacker in the rape of the Central Park Jogger.
DNA evidence confirmed his admission and exonerated the Central Park Five , and Matias continues to serve out his life sentence in prison today.
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