On June 12, Oprah sat down with When They See Us director Ava Duvernay, the show’s cast, and the real men tagged by the media as “the Central Park Five” for an engaging interview– Oprah Winfrey Presents: When They See Us Now— that included conversation around the making of the show and the experiences of the actors and the real men.
I am watching Oprah’s special now as I write this and I appreciate that Ava and Oprah assert from the beginning that the men are not the “Central Park 5” but, the “Exonerated 5”. Each actor spoke with deep compassion and care about each of the men they portrayed and how the experience of bringing the story to the screen changed their lives. The Netflix series strongly impacted me as well, so much so that I did not watch it in a linear fashion or all at once. Overwhelming, emotionally searing and painful, I had to watch it in segments. And, because of my experience, I offer these recommendations for people to watch with your children or if assigning this as a viewing experience for your children.
- Watch each episode slowly if necessary.
When I say watch each episode slowly, I mean pause it if you need to. Watch a few minutes and come back to it another day if you need to. Talk about it or think about it before pushing the play button again. Whatever you need to do, do it, for, this film is emotionally taxing, particularly if you are strongly empathetic, have a personal experience that is similar or have a strong identification with the state of (in)justice in this country. I am all of the above and left the living room after fifteen minutes of watching. I cried that evening and a little the next day. Ava Duvernay’s beautiful direction and cinematography made the story’s horror palpable and humanized the story in unexpected ways.
2. Check in with your children and ask how they are doing.
My daughter and her father continued to watch the series’ first episode when I had retired to bed fifteen minutes in. The next morning, I checked in with my daughter to see how she was doing and what her thoughts were of the movie. My daughter is a 15 year-old homeschooler who has taken college courses in critiquing film and pop culture and her initial response lingered on the technical aspects of the film from writing, acting and directing. She then began to ask questions and we researched some of the things published about the case. We discussed the role that Donald Trump played in marking the young men as criminals and creating a narrative that he stands by and does not apologize for. Checking in with your child(ren) lets you gauge how they are processing the information and let’s you know what context you needs to give to make it more understandable for them.
3. Check out some of the perspectives via social media
I recommend going on Twitter to see some of the conversation that the series has sparked. Some of the perspective gives context to things you may have questions on and some of the comments give backstory on some of the people involved in the case, including the prosecutors and detectives. My daughter chose to see what people were saying about the series and learned that the lead detective on the case had gone into publishing and was the inspiration behind one of my daughter’s favorite shows, Law and Order. That knowledge led us to have a conversation about how we consider people within and outside of the media microscope.
In closing, I think the series, while an artistic rendering of a very real and sensational story, is a valuable tool for teaching children about the injustice of America’s legal system. I think it also teaches about the power of media lynching and how vulnerable Black people are within the justice system, particularly when poor, uninformed about their rights and when targeted by those with authority.
Did you watch the series? What were your thoughts? Leave in the comment section below.
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a homeschooling mother, a multi-media strategist and professional creative who has built an expansive interdisciplinary career as a professional in higher education, media, student development and the arts. You can join her mailing list and register for her courses for homeschooling families at StudentMediaOnline.com