The new Netflix show When They See Us has been released to critical success. But how accurate is the show on the story it’s rendering? According to Ava DuVernay, who created the four-part series, the story is “100% real.”
In a tweet to a fan asking if the show was drama or based on true events, DuVernay tweeted back, “Not drama. 100% real. The real rapist is Matias Reyes. I shot the prison yard scene just as Korey told it to me. And the words Matias says to Nancy Ryan are almost word for word from his real confession. Wild, I know.”
DuVernay tweeted to someone else,
You witness no more than 10 minutes of who the boys were before they’re ripped out of their youth. Then you’re plunged into their nightmare. The voices you hear as they are being chased by police in the park are the actual 911 tapes from April 19, 1989.
Here’s a brief summary of the Central Park Five story:
In 1989, a woman running through Central Park was attacked, raped, and brutalized within an inch of her life. The Central Park Jogger was a woman named Trisha Meili. Her attack led to the wrongful conviction of the Central Park Five.
The Central Park Five are four black men and one Hispanic man who were arrested and wrongfully committed for the rape of a white woman named Trisha Meili in 1989. They were eventually exonerated after one of the five, Korey Wise, met serial rapist Matias Reyes during his time in prison. Reyes would go on to admit that he committed the crime, and a subsequent DNA test would prove he was at the scene of the crime.
Following the exoneration of the five men, the City of New York agreed to pay them a settlement of $41 million, which was approximately one million for each of their years spent in prison. When They See Us, a four-part series on Netflix directed by Ava DuVernay, explores the experience of these five men: Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Kevin Richardson.
Here’s what you need to know about how accurate the show’s rendering of the Central Park Jogger case was, what the original Central Park Five think, what the crime scene photos look like, and more:
What Do The Central Park Five Think of When They See Us?
The members of the Central Park Five are Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Antron McCray. The men, now well into their 40s, have sat down with a number of publications leading up to the release of the show.
They’ve confirmed, in a number of ways, how accurate the show is to their story, and how involved they were in the creation with it.
Santana was actually the one who first reached out to DuVernay with the idea of covering the famous case. On April 21, 2015, Santana tweeted to DuVernay, “What’s your next film gonna be on?? #thecentralparkfive #CP5 #centralpark5 maybe???? #wishfulthinking #fingerscrossed”
To The New York Times, Santana said,
[Reliving these events] brings back the pain; it brings back the memories. But it’s necessary. I was ready and I was willing to relive, to go through that pain again, to cry — because it’s necessary. It’s a sacrifice. You want to change the culture, you’ve got to be engaged. This is how we got engaged.
Salaam also spoke with the publication about his experience watching the show, and his reckoning, in particular, with Wise’s experience. Wise was the only one of the five to be tried and sentenced as an adult; as a result, he spent over a decade in prison.
Salaam also talked to the publication about the guilt he felt for being the reason Wise was implicated in the crime to begin with.
When I saw this series, I immediately realized that we were in paradise compared to the hell that Korey was in. His was unrelenting. I went to jail and I was able to get a college degree. He never got an opportunity to breathe, to meditate, to just say, ‘Phew, man, that was really crazy today. Let me kick my feet up a little bit and read this magazine.’ That reality — pain, I think, is a better word — is knowing that he came because of me. Offering an “I’m sorry” doesn’t seem adequate. And I’ve been able to say that to him, but I also realized that that’s not adequate enough to know what he went through, or that he could have been killed in prison. He almost was. It’s not enough. And I have a direct role to play in that.
Crime Scene Photos & the Matias Reyes Confession in Real Life [Warning: GRAPHIC]
The Central Park Five were eventually exonerated after one of the five, Korey Wise, met serial rapist Matias Reyes during his time in prison. Reyes would go on to admit that he committed the crime, and a subsequent DNA test would prove he was at the scene of the crime.
Meili’s identity remained anonymous for 14 years; during those 14 years, the Central Park Five were arrested and wrongfully convicted for her assault and rape. In 2002, a year before Meili spoke out publicly to confirm her identity, Matias Reyes (a serial rapist) admitted to the crime.
Here are the crime scene photos from the attack of the Central Park Jogger, as released by the New York City Law Department:
The photo above shows a totally bloodied jacket. Meili lost 75 percent of her body’s blood during the attack. Her recovery was considered a miracle.
Reyes decided to come forward after he met Korey Wise in prison. Wise was one of the Central Park Five, and the only one of the group who was tried and convicted as an adult for the crime.
In 2002, Reyes, then 30, said at the time per The New York Daily News, “I know it’s hard for people to understand, after 12 years why a person would actually come forward to take responsibility for a crime. I’ve asked myself that question. At first, I was afraid, but at the end of the day I felt it was definitely the right thing to do.”
According to The New York Times in 2002, Reyes had a troubling childhood history, he claimed, where his mother sold him to his father for $400 and he was sexually assaulted when he was seven years old. Reyes’ criminal history leading up to his conviction in the Central Park jogger case was incredibly graphic: he raped and stabbed 24-year-old Lourdes Gonzalez in 1989 (the same year Meili was raped), while her three children were listening in the other room.
During his confession in 2002 (which you can listen to in full here), Reyes said that he “wanted so bad to approach” Wise while they were in jail together, “and to speak to him and to tell him that it was me that did the crime he’s in jail for, that if he could forgive me.” He added, “But there was a thing in the back of my head that was saying, ‘You don’t know what this kid has gone through in 12 years of his life.”
He said in his confession,
“I struck her from behind, back of the head. She fell down. After she fell down, I dragged her to the bushes. I violated her – raped her. And after I’m finished she’s struggling. I beat her with a rock…I went off. I hit her a lot of times. I heard bones crushing.”
After hearing news of the exoneration of the Central Park Five and the conviction of Reyes, Meili spoke out, maintaining she remembered nothing of the evening but that she was surprised that only one man would have been involved. She said to 20/20, “When [Reyes] said that he and he alone had done it, that’s when some of the turmoil started, and [me] wondering, ‘Well, how can that be?'”