A federal judge ruled Monday that Netflix, Ava DuVernay, and writer Attica Locke can be sued for defamation for their depiction of a character in the critically-acclaimed Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.”
The dramatic series garnered multiple accolades for its gripping account of the Central Park Five, a group of Black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted of attacking a woman jogger in Central Park in 1989.
A former prosecutor portrayed throughout the series— Linda Fairstein– filed a lawsuit in March 2020. During the case, Fairstein was chief of the Sex Crimes Prosecutions Unit in the Manhattan D.A.’s office. According to Fairstein’s complaint, the depiction of her in “When They See Us” was “grossly inaccurate and defamatory.”
The defendants sought to dismiss Fairstein’s lawsuit on first amendment grounds. “Central to the First Amendment is the right to harshly criticize government, including in the context of artistic film dramatizations based on real stories and perspectives that include unflattering portrayals of public officials,” it reads. “At its core, Plaintiff [Linda Fairstein] seeks to evade that criticism by ignoring the Series’ essential context, the actual dialogue in the Series, and her own actual, documented words and actions. The Complaint cannot stand as a matter of law,” they argued.
In the Monday ruling, Judge Peter Kevin Castel granted Fairstein the ability to sue on several of her defamation claims, but not all of them.
A Netflix spokesperson told CNN Business in a statement that the company will “continue to vigorously defend ‘When They See Us’ and the incredible team behind the series, and we’re confident that we’ll prevail against Ms. Fairstein’s few remaining claims.”