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Ava DuVernay and Netflix Sued by Former Manhattan Prosecutor After Portrayal in ‘When They See Us’

Prosecutor Linda Fairstein filed a lawsuit against Ava DuVernay, Netflix, and "When They See Us'" co-writer Attica Locke alleging defamation of character.



Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

It’s been over a year since Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” was released onto Netflix. The miniseries documented the wrongful conviction of five New York youths, all of color, for rape and assault in the 1980s. Almost immediately after the series was released former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein, who oversaw the case and secured the original convictions, was decrying her portrayal as an “outright fabrication.”

Now, she’s going one step further and has officially filed a lawsuit against DuVernay, Netflix, and the show’s co-writer Attica Locke alleging defamation of character according to the New York Times. According to the suit, “In the film series, which Defendants have marketed and promoted as a true story, Defendants depict Ms. Fairstein — using her true name — as a racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost.”

This builds on Fairstein’s original criticisms of the series which extended to claims that the Central Park Five — now the Exonerated Five — were “being held without food, deprived of their parents’ company and advice, and not even allowed to use the bathroom.”

Netflix responded with the following statement: “Linda Fairstein’s frivolous lawsuit is without merit. We intend to vigorously defend ‘When They See Us’ and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series.” Neither DuVernay nor Locke has released a statement, and IndieWire reached out to Netflix for additional comment.

At a Q&A in 2019 about the series, DuVernay responded to Fairstein’s critiques. “I think that it’s important that people be held accountable. And that accountability is happening in a way today that it did not happen for the real men 30 years ago. But I think that it would be a tragedy if this story and the telling of it came down to one woman being punished for what she did because it’s not about her. It’s not all about her,” she said.

“When They See Us” was a critical darling upon release last year, with Netflix claiming it was their most-watched series at the time with over 23 million accounts streaming it. Despite being snubbed at the Golden Globes it would garner two Primetime Emmys for its cast, as well as actor Jharrel Jerome in the Outstanding Lead Actor category.

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