It’s been nearly 30 years since five Black and Brown teens from Harlem, New York, were catapulted into the national spotlight for a crime they didn’t commit. And still, “The Central Park 5,” as the media renamed them, remain the poster children for what happens when a flawed criminal justice system rears its racist head.
This month, the story of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise gets a new treatment, thanks to the efforts of acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay. When They See Us, on Netflix May 31, will not only tell the story of what it was like for the young teens to be falsely accused, arrested, and imprisoned, but also what happened after the physical shackles were removed, and life “on the outside” resumed.
This particular journey for the men is one that NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt describes as “something that we really hadn’t seen portrayed in any kinda way.” Holt sat down with the famed director for an interview airing Monday night at 6:30pm ET/5:30pm CT on NBC, to discuss her newest project and the overarching issue of mass incarceration. Much like DuVernay, whose documentary 13th highlighted inequalities throughout America’s jails and prisons, Holt uses his platform to shine a light on those who are negatively affected by a flawed criminal justice system.
“We all knew about the original case and the trial and their incarceration. But you lived in the moments, not only in their incarceration, but what it was like to come home,” Holt says in the interview before pointing out its significance.
Currently, much of the work being done to curb over-incarceration rates in the United States is centered on rehabilitation and the restoration of rights for formerly incarcerated individuals. What happens when men and women walk out of prison cells and back into free society largely depends on their ability to reacclimate. It’s an issue DuVernay was careful to touch on.
“You know I think folks may think this is just about the story of the five boys. But these boys became men and then had to carry the weight of the verdict, of their sentence on their back when they get out,” the Academy Award nominee says to Holt during their sit-down. “The story of formerly incarcerated people in this country is one that’s little told. It’s not told enough. We don’t understand how many rights have been stripped from these people who have served their time, yet exist among us as half-citizens; all the things that they cannot do. So, I really wanted to show how one comes out dealing with kind of being half a citizen, and how this was put upon these boys for a crime they didn’t commit.”
For more on their interview, tune into NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt on Monday 6:30pm ET/5:30pm CT.