Producers, students, and crew members alike flocked to Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California for the Producer Guild of America’s ProducedBy Conference. The two-day event featured discussions from prominent filmmakers, producers, and TV execs.
Sunday, June 9 hosted Ava DuVernay and her brilliant team (Netflix VP Cindy Holland, founder of Tribeca Enterprises Jane Rosenthal, and executive producers Jonathan King and Berry Welsh) behind When They See Us, the four-part Netflix series surrounding the controversial case of the Central Park Five. For anyone who is unfamiliar, five innocent black and brown males (Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam) were unjustly convicted of beating and raping a white woman in Central Park.
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During the panel, DuVernay said she was very grateful to be a filmmaker at a time when she can approach Netflix with an idea for four films, and even more so a company that allowed her to fly out Richardson, McCray, Santana Jr., Wise and Salaam to watch all four films together in what was a very emotional moment for everyone involved.
“I remember the first frame of the episode came up and my stomach just dropped I said, ‘God please, please… please let them feel like this is right and they were honored here and that their stories were told and their families were depicted in the right way,’” revealed DuVernay.
As for the men, they re-lived their entire journey over again.
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“Imagine seeing yourself at the moment your whole life changed. The life of your family changed forever 30 years ago. They cried. They wept. The held onto each other. They wailed,” added DuVernay. “I could see the light on their faces and there are just tears. I never thought I could see that many tears come out of a human being for five hours.”
DuVernay and her team also discussed the challenges of bringing the 1989 court case back to the forefront and using it as means of highlighting America’s incredibly flawed justice system.
“The first episode will be about this portion of the case, but also show everyone what it feels like to be arrested as a young black boy,” said DuVernay. “How it feels to be in a precinct and precinct behavior, the kinds of behavior we are hearing are happening in precincts around the country as it relates to black and brown people.”
DuVernay also explained with great detail the plan she proposed for films two through four: “The second episode we are going to talk about bail and the fact that we have a debtor’s prison in this country. The fact that there are ppl in prison who are poor and innocent and there are people who are not in prison who are rich and guilty. We’ll talk about judges and juries and district attorneys and prosecutors. The third episode, we will talk about juvenile detention… How we’re locking up children in this country and putting them with adults and walking away in this country and then we will talk about the horrors of incarceration. And folks won’t even know we are talking about this because we are talking about this very famous case.”
When They See Us is currently airing on Netflix.
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