Central Park Five Prosecutor Slams ‘When They See Us’ as ‘Outright Fabrication’ Amid Backlash

Former Manhattan sex-crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein is speaking out against the Netflix series amid renewed backlash over her involvement in the case.
"When They See Us"
Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

Linda Fairstein, the former Manhattan sex-crimes prosecutor who played a key role in convicting the Central Park Five, is speaking out against Ava DuVernay’s Netflix limited drama series “When They See Us.” Fairstein penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which she calls the series an “outright fabrication.” Backlash against Fairstein has been reignited following the show’s debut May 31, so much so that she has resigned from various boards such as the one she served on for Vassar College. Retailers have also begun dropping her books. Fairstein is played by Felicity Huffman in DuVernay’s Netflix series.

According to the former prosecutor, “When They See Us” is “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.” Among the show’s “most egregious falsehoods” is how it “repeatedly portrays the suspects as being held without food, deprived of their parents’ company and advice, and not even allowed to use the bathroom.”

“If that had been true, surely they would have brought those issues up and prevailed in pretrial hearings on the voluntariness of their statements, as well as in their lawsuit against the city,” Fairstein writes. “They didn’t, because it never happened.”

Fairstein rebukes DuVernay’s depiction of her and the events, writing that showing her as a “prosecutor and a bigot, the police as incompetent or worse, and the five suspects as innocent of all charges against them” is not true. She writes the show is missing “the larger picture of that terrible night: a riot in the dark that resulted in the apprehension of more than 15 teenagers who set upon multiple victims.” Fairstein claims that on the night of the rape “eight others were attacked, including two men who were beaten so savagely that they required hospitalization for head injuries.” The five boys convicted for the rape were involved in this riot, Fairstein alleges.

“It is a wonderful thing that these five men have taken themselves to responsible positions and community respect,” Fairstein writes, “[but DuVernay] ignored so much of the truth about the gang of 30 and about the suffering of their victims.”

DuVernay was asked during a recent Q&A for the series about the backlash Fairstein is facing, to which the filmmaker responded, “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.”

Read Fairstein’s full op-ed over on The Wall Street Journal’s website. “When They See Us” is now streaming on Netflix.

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