I’m not the type to willingly watch anything that will make me cry. Give me horror or comedy any day, but a sad drama? No thanks! However, when I first saw ‘When They See Us’ on Netflix, I was intrigued so I added it to my watch list. But it still took me a while to get around to it because like I said, this isn’t my usual cup of tea. 

What finally convinced me to watch it was the Netflix special ‘Oprah Winfrey Presents: When They See Us’. I saw a snippet of it before deciding to watch the actual thing, which is a 4-part miniseries. 

And it was worth it, every single heart-wrenching second of it.

While the premise is set in the USA, its main takeaway completely resonates with me. As it turns out, I’m not the only non-American to feel moved by the story. Many across the globe including Australia and Europe express through social media about how ‘When They See Us’ has impacted them too. So far, 23 million Netflix accounts have watched it.

Show poster of When They See Us
via @WhenTheySeeUs Twitter account

The synopsis

It starts off with 5 young Harlem teenagers (Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana) were accused of raping a female jogger in Central Park in 1989. Things escalated very quickly after they were basically coerced by the police into admitting that they did it, even though they actually didn’t.

After a long and emotional court trial, they were each ultimately found guilty. They were then sentenced to serve time for the crime. In the end, the case was reopened and the corrupt investigation was exposed, finally leading to their exoneration.

Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam hugging after emotional court trial on When They See Us
via Indiewire.com

What makes the miniseries stand out

In the Oprah interview, Ava explained that she wanted the miniseries to give viewers an inside look at the boys themselves and their families too. During the police investigation period, they had suffered at the hands of the vulture-like media who dubbed them the ‘Central Park Five’. Even though they were falsely accused, they had no choice but to face the consequences like getting beaten up by other prisoners. What’s even worse is that they all struggled to get their lives back on track after serving their time. 

Watching how the whole thing affected them can really tug at the heartstrings. A quick Google search about the real-life case can tell you what happens in the end. But even if you do know, the miniseries is so well done that you’d forget it. It’s a huge testament to the skills of the actors and the production crew, especially Ava. 

As Kevin told Oprah, “Watching this is painful but it’s necessary. It needs to be watched.”

Why the miniseries is important

The story touches on various themes such as system corruption, discrimination, faith and family love. Even though it revolves around the Exonerated Five and their traumatic experiences, the emotional struggles are not alien to those outside of Harlem. It is ultimately about humanity. Being human is to survive, and that’s something the whole world can relate to. 

Bad things exist everywhere in the world, but so do good things. It doesn’t matter where we’re from. It’s up to every single one of us to uphold the values in whatever we do. By spreading the good, there’ll be less room for the bad to breed.

If you haven’t seen it yet, let the trailer convince you: