Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam were known and labeled as “The Central Park Five.” They are the five men who were wrongly convicted and imprisoned for a rape they didn’t commit. As Oprah Winfrey sat down with them, she declared, “From this day forward, we call them The Exonerated Five.”
It was an emotional evening as Netflix wrapped their FYSEE month with a screening of Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us. The four-part limited series now streaming on Netflix is “an unmissable knockout” as it recounts the 1989 evening when the five teenagers were wrongly convicted.
Following the screening, Winfrey brought out DuVernay and the cast and crew of the show. “I believe this is the exact right time for this,” WInfrey said as she introduced the first panel that included Jharrel Jerome ( Wise), Asante Black (Richardson), Caleel Harris (McCray), Ethan Herisse (Salaam), Niecy Nash (Delores Wise), Joshua Jackson (Mickey Joseph). She also brought out the actors who play the older versions of the five – Jovan Adepo who plays the adult McCray. Chris Chalk ( Salaam), Freddy Miyares (Santana), Justin Cunningham ( Richardson), as well as, Michael K. Williams (Bobby McCray), Jane Rosenthal (executive producer), Berry Welsh (executive producer) and Jonathan King (executive producer).
Talking about the original title for the series- Central Park Five – DuVernay explained she didn’t want to use that title because it took away the faces of the boys and dehumanized them.
DuVernay also mentioned she has a grief counselor available for the cast and crew during the filming. “I never needed the hotline,” Jerome who plays Korey Wise said, “Korey was my therapist.”
Winfrey told Jerome it was his performance of Wise that “is seared on my heart.” Asked how he embodied Wise, Jermone said, “Once I found the voice, it went down into the body and into the legs. It was so weird. It was the first time I stepped out of my body and into someone else’s.” He told the audience how Wise bought him a pair of kicks. “Korey buys Korey sneakers.”
Michael K. Williams who plays Bobby McCray, Antron’s father said, “I remember the fear. I was a victim of wilding and I got jumped by young boys and almost lost my life.” He told the audience.
Asked what he learned about the justice system in playing Mickey Joseph, the defense attorney, Joshua Jackson replied, “What did I learn about the justice system? It’s the wrong name for it.”
Winfrey wrapped the cast and crew panel and brought out Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam. The Exonerated five walked out to a standing ovation. Winfrey talked to them about what they felt when they heard the guilty verdict in the courtroom that day. McCray said, “I felt numb. I lost my religion.” McCray also said how the series “brought back a lot of pain.” Tearful, he said, “Even to this day, I’m damaged. I need help. I know it.” He told the audience his wife had suggested therapy. “The system broke a lot of things that can’t be fixed.” Talking about his father, McCray said he hadn’t forgiven his father. “I hate him. My life is ruined.”
Winfrey wrapped up the night by saying, “This art has now elevated the conversation to the point that we at least are willing to look at the injustices. You won.” She told them. “You won!”
The conversation will premiere on Netflix and OWN on June 12 at 10 PT/ET.