The four-part series that has galvanized Netflix subscribers everywhere for its portrayal of the 1989 Central Park Five scandal took center stage at the Emmys. When Jharrel Jerome went up to accept his award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for “When They See Us”, he gave a special shout out to those dubbed as the “exonerated five.”
The five young Black men, Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richards, and Yusef Salaam, were wrongfully accused of raping Trisha Meili in 1989. 30 years later, the controversy still angers civil rights activists everywhere. The young man that Jerome played, Korey Wise, was forced to plead guilty and served 14 years as an adult in the corrections even though he was 16 at the time.
The case gained steam again when Donald Trump entered the 2016 Presidential race and ultimately won. In the aftermath of the crime, Trump, who was at the height of his real estate career, spent $85,000 on full-page advertisements in four New York newspapers condemning the young men and calling for reinstatement of the death penalty. Among many pointed statements in the ads, Trump said “maybe hate is what we need if we’re going to get something done.” To this day, even as the Divider in Chief occupies the White House, he stands by his words from 1989.
Jerome emotionally put the advancements of the last 30 years in perspective. “Thirty years ago they were sitting in a prison cell, falsely incarcerated, and today they’re in suits styled by designers for the Emmys,” Jerome said during his speech as he pointed out and named the five men among the crowd at the event.
Jerome is the first Afro-Latino actor to be nominated for and win an Emmy and is also the youngest to win the award for Lead Actor in a Limited Series. “It’s an honor. It’s a blessing, and I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos. It’s about time we are here,” Jerome said.
The cast and subjects of the series celebrated the win together after the award ceremony. Jerome posted a video to his Instagram of himself partying with Wise, McCray, and Santana among many of the Hollywood elite.
Time will tell how this limited series will impact how people, especially whites, view the tragic mishandling of the events from 30 years ago.