The three actors lend big name recognition in supporting roles.
Ava Duvernay is an impressively prolific and varied filmmaker. Over the past four years, she has released an academy award nominated biopic (Selma), an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning documentary (13th), a critically acclaimed TV series (Queen Sugar), and a Disney blockbuster (A Wrinkle in Time).
Duvernay will add to her impressive filmography with a four-episode limited series for Netflix entitled Central Park Five. The series will chronicle the story of the five young men of color who were wrongfully convicted of rape in 1989 and eventually received a $41 million settlement from the City of New York. When Duvernay begins shooting her new project in early August, she will be joined by Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga, and John Leguizamo, who have all signed on to star.
Central Park Five will see Duvernay helming her first limited series, which she will write, direct, and executive produce. Though she is working in a new format, the subject matter Duvernay is set to tackle harkens back to ideas she has explored in several of her previous films.
The over-incarceration of black men in America is a theme that appears in Duvernay’s work time and time again. It plays a major roll in the plots of both Middle of Nowhere and Selma (about the civil rights march led by Martin Luther King Jr.) It is also the central focus of her documentary, 13th, in which she explicitly links black male incarceration to the larger history of racial oppression in America and ultimately to antebellum slavery. Duvernay’s thesis in 13th is restated repeatedly in her narrative work, where she portrays both the personal toll prison terms take on families and the political ramifications they exact on the country as a whole.
Considering her history with the topic of incarceration, there is perhaps no more fitting a subject matter for Duvernay to tackle next than the story of the Central Park Five.
After their 1989 arrest, teenagers Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise were coerced into giving false confessions and ultimately convicted of a rape that occurred in New York City’s Central Park. They were not exonerated until 2002 and their lawsuit against the city was not settled for another 12 years. The trial attracted extreme media attention and became (and remains today) a highly controversial example of a race-based wrongful conviction.
The upcoming Netflix series will cover the story of the Central Park Five in its entirety and span over several decades. Williams and Leguizamo will each play the father of one of the Central Park Five, specifically McCray and Santana. Farmiga will play the lead prosecutor, New York Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer.
We don’t yet know who will portray the Central Park Five, or what role Donald Trump will play in the series. Trump famously took out several full-page ads in newspapers calling for New York to reinstate the death penalty while the five innocent teenagers stood trial. Even after they were exonerated with DNA evidence, he publicly stated that he believed them to be guilty as recently as during his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump is often credited for helping to sway public opinion against the Central Park Five leading up to their conviction.
Though major details about the series have yet to be revealed, Duvernay’s prior experience with the subject matter and the A-list talent attached to the project make it likely that Central Park Five will premiere next year to critical acclaim.