Netflix and Ava DuVernay Settle Defamation Lawsuit Over ‘When They See Us’

Photo by Stephanie Moreno/Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications for Peabody Awards/University of Georgia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Netflix and filmmaker Ava DuVernay have reached a settlement in the defamation lawsuit filed by former New York City prosecutor Linda Fairstein over her portrayal in the 2019 drama series “When They See Us.” The series, which tells the story of the Central Park Five—five black and Latino teenagers wrongfully convicted of assaulting and raping a woman in Central Park in 1989—depicted Fairstein in a controversial light.

The trial, initially scheduled to begin next week, was averted as both parties reached an agreement. DuVernay clarified that there was no financial settlement with Fairstein. Instead, Netflix has agreed to donate $1 million (£780,000) to the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals. Additionally, Netflix will make changes to the series, including moving a disclaimer about the dramatization of certain events to the beginning of each episode. The disclaimer now reads: “While the motion picture is inspired by actual events and persons, certain characters, incidents, locations, dialogue, and names are fictionalized for the purposes of dramatization.”

Fairstein, who was in charge of the Manhattan Sex Crimes unit during the Central Park Five case, filed her lawsuit in 2020, claiming she was depicted “in a false and defamatory manner in nearly every scene” and portrayed as a “racist, unethical villain.” Fairstein expressed that settling the case was difficult but necessary to correct what she viewed as a misrepresentation of her character.

In a statement, DuVernay, known for her work on “Selma” and Disney’s “A Wrinkle In Time,” expressed her disappointment that the case did not go to trial. She believed Fairstein was accountable for the wrongful convictions, stating, “Linda Fairstein decided that she was not willing to face a jury of her peers.” DuVernay emphasized that Fairstein was present for over 35 hours during the interrogation of the boys, who were often without their parents.

Fairstein, played by Felicity Huffman in the Emmy-winning series, had a significant role in the narrative. The series depicts her as leading the investigation and features her character prominently in three of the four episodes. Fairstein asserted that the settlement was about correcting the historical record, not a concession of guilt, and maintained confidence in her potential case before a jury.

DuVernay and Netflix firmly rejected Fairstein’s initial demands for a cash settlement, and no money has been paid to Fairstein as part of the agreement.

The Central Park Five case has long been a symbol of racial injustice. In 1989, five young black and Hispanic men—Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise—were wrongfully convicted of the brutal attack on 28-year-old jogger Trisha Meili. Despite their confessions, which they later said were coerced, they were exonerated in 2002 when another man, Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement.

The settlement between Netflix, DuVernay, and Fairstein highlights ongoing discussions about the portrayal of real-life events in media and the responsibility of filmmakers to balance artistic representation with factual accuracy.

Written by Influencer Editorial Team

Managed By Influencer Team - United Kingdom

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