Ava DuVernay to Tell the Story of 'Central Park Rapists'

Five young Black and Latino men accused of gang rape — were wrongfully convicted. Donald Trump took out full-page ads to fuel public opinion and doubled down just last year.

Ava DuVernay / REUTERS

Writer and director Ava DuVernay will bring to life the stories of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise — known as the Central Park Five.

The five Black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were wrongly convicted of viciously assaulting and raping a white woman, Trisha Meili, in New York City's Central Park in 1989.

"The story of the men known as Central Park Five has riveted me for more than two decades," DuVernay said in a statement.

The five-episode scripted series created by DuVernay, who received an Academy Award nomination for "Selma" in 2014, will debut on Netflix in 2019. She will also write and direct the production, which exposes the breakdown of the U.S. criminal justice system at every phase of the historic case.

The teens testified detectives coerced them to give confessions, which resulted in almost exclusively providing the basis for their conviction.

In 2002, a serial rapist and murderer named Matias Reyes confessed to the assault, and his DNA linked him to the crime.

There has not been DNA evidence connecting the Central Park Five to any wrongdoing.

Each part of DuVernay's series will focus on one of the five teenagers. The series will span from the spring of 1989, when each were first questioned about the incident, to 2014 when they were exonerated and a $41 million settlement was reached with the city of New York.

Trump's Rhetoric on the Central Park Five

"In their journey, we witness five innocent young men of color who were met with injustice at every turn — from coerced confessions to unjust incarceration to public calls for their execution by the man who would go on to be the president of the United States," DuVernay said.

In 1989, now President Donald Trump placed full-page ads in the four daily papers in New York City, calling for the return of the death penalty and the execution of the teens that he didn't refer to by name.

"Muggers and murderers," Trump wrote, "should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes."

He spent $85,000 on the ads.

The same year, he made an appearance on CNN to talk about the case.

Almost 30 years later, in October when campaigning for the presidency, Trump doubled down on his rhetoric, insinuating the teens, now men, are not innocent of the crime.

"They admitted they were guilty," Trump said in a statement to CNN's Miguel Marquez. "The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."

'13th' and 'Queen Sugar'

DuVernay has worked on prior projects that put the criminal justice system under a microscope. The 2017 Academy Award-nominated documentary "13th," released in 2016, explores how mass incarceration in the United States disproportionately affects African Americans and reflects the injustice of slavery.

"I had an extraordinary experience working with Netflix on '13th' and am overjoyed to continue this exploration of the criminal justice system as a narrative project with Cindy Holland and the team there," DuVernay said.

The Central Park Five series will be executive produced by Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King from Participant Media, Jane Rosenthal and Berry Welsh from Tribeca Productions, DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey/Harpo Films.

Winfrey is also an executive producer of the TV show "Queen Sugar," created and directed by DuVernay. The contemporary drama airing on OWN is based on Natalie Baszile's novel and explores the African American experience through the lives of the estranged Bordelon siblings in Saint Josephine, La.

"Queen Sugar" cast members participated in a panel discussion at the American Black Film Festival in Miami last month. Timon Kyle Durrett said the show's all-female directorial team represents "a long-awaited balance" in the entertainment industry.

Kofi Siriboe discussed why he thinks "Queen Sugar" is of importance to African Americans.

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