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When They See Us: The Exonerated Five will attend the 2019 Emmy Awards with Ava DuVernay

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Christobel Hastings
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Jharrel Jerome in When They See Us

They were wrongfully convicted for the brutal sexual assault of a white female jogger in 1989. 30 years later, The Exonerated Five will attend the Emmy Awards with Ava DuVernay after her critically-acclaimed series When They See Us dominated the 2019 nominations.  

It all started in April 2015, when Raymond Santana, one of The Exonerated Five, publicly tweeted film director Ava DuVernay asking if she would take an interest in a story that became one of the defining true crime cases of the 1980s.

Fast forward to July 2019, and the powerful Netflix series When They See Us, which tells the true story of five Harlem teenagers who were wrongfully convicted in 1989 of the brutal sexual assault of a white female jogger in New York City’s Central Park, has stormed the Emmy nominations.

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The four-part limited series has earned the most nods of any project for streaming giant Netflix this year with an impressive 16 nominations, including recognition in the Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Casting For A Limited Series, Movie Or Special, and Outstanding Cinematography For A Limited Series categories, as well as producing, directing, and co-writing nods for Ava DuVernay.

The Exonerated Five: Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise
Movingly, all five actors who played the Central Park Five were recognised for their work on the show, with Jharrel Jerome nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, and Niecy Nash and Aunjanue Ellis earning nominations in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie category. 

When They See Us also scooped three nominations in the supporting categories, with Asante Blackk, John Leguizamo and Michael K Williams are nominated for Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, and Marsha Stephanie Blake and Vera Farmiga nominated for Supporting Actress. 

In an emotionally charged series of tweets, show director, co-writer, and producer Ava DuVernay revealed how the project got off the ground, thanking The Exonerated Five, formerly known as the Central Park Five, for inviting her to work with them in 2015.

“Thank you to the real men for inviting me to tell their story,” DuVernay tweeted after the nominations were announced. “Thank you @TelevisionAcad for honoring the work. Saluting every single crew and cast member. And saluting Raymond, Korey, Antron, Yusef and Kevin. Love you, brothers.”

DuVernay also praised Netflix for its “faith and fearlessness” in allowing her vision to come to life. Yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter announced that When They See Us, which has been watched by 23 million accounts worldwide since its release, was the most-nominated series for the streaming platform. 

Since airing on Netflix, the series has re-emphasised the grave miscarriage of justice that led to five black and Latinx teenagers being demonised by the media and the criminal justice system, as well as provoking an outpouring of sympathy for The Exonerated Five as it depicted the struggles they faced in adulthood.

As the news of the 71st annual Emmy nominations broke yesterday, DuVernay announced that The Exonerated Five, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, whose convictions were overturned in 2002, will all be attending the awards ceremony in September.

“Just off the phone with Korey Wise. I told him to get his tux ready. He said: “You did that, Queen. You told the story. You did what you came to do. They had to see it. They listened.” #WhenTheySeeUs,” she tweeted, later adding, “They’re getting their tuxedos ready. Harlem will definitely be in Hollywood on Emmy night.”

The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards will air live on 22 September.

Images: Netflix, Getty

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.

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