Ava DuVernay says Linda Fairstein's op-ed blasting 'When They See Us' is 'expected and typical'

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Ava DuVernay is reacting to Linda Fairstein's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. (Photos: Getty Images)

Central Park Five prosecutor Linda Fairstein has penned an op-ed blasting Netflix’s When They See Us as anoutright fabrication” and slamming its director, Ava DuVernay. However, DuVernay isn’t surprised.

In response to the op-ed in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, DuVernay tweeted that it is both “expected and typical.” She added, “Onward...”

Fairstein, who is played by Felicity Huffman, wrote in her piece that the four-part miniseries, based on the events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case in New York City is “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication."

She said the series — looking at the five accused teens (four of which are African-American and one who is Hispanic) who were prosecuted and later exonerated (Donald Trump called for the death penalty) — “omits crucial details,” including that there was a riot of more than 30-people that took place that fated night — April 19, 1989 — when runner Trisha Meili was raped. That night, “eight others were attacked, including two men who were beaten so savagely that they required hospitalization for head injuries,” she wrote.

“Reporters and filmmakers have explored this story countless times from numerous perspectives, almost always focusing on five attackers and one female jogger,” Fairstein continued. “But each has missed the larger picture of that terrible night: a riot in the dark that resulted in the apprehension of more than 15 teenagers who set upon multiple victims. That a sociopath named Matias Reyes confessed in 2002 to the rape of Ms. Meili, and that the district attorney consequently vacated the charges against the five after they had served their sentences, has led some of these reporters and filmmakers to assume the prosecution had no basis on which to charge the five suspects in 1989. So it is with filmmaker Ava DuVernay in the Netflix miniseries When They See Us, a series so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.”

Fairstein claimed that instead of DuVernay going with facts from court documents, the director and co-writer of the project has “written an utterly false narrative involving an evil mastermind (me) and the falsely accused (the five).” She said that while she was “one of the supervisors who oversaw the team that prosecuted the teenagers apprehended after that horrific night of violence,” the film attempts to portray her “as an overzealous prosecutor and a bigot” and the police as “incompetent” and the five suspects as “innocent of all charges against them.” She said, “None of this is true.”

She went on to cite specific inaccuracies about herself and the investigation. On the long list, she denied making “racist remarks” she said the screenwriters attributed to her. She said some of the arrests were depicted inaccurately. She also cited evidence she said linked the men to other rioting and crime that night.

“It is a wonderful thing that these five men,” Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam “have taken themselves to responsible positions and community respect,” Fairstein concluded. “That Ms. DuVernay ignored so much of the truth about the gang of 30 and about the suffering of their victims — and that her film includes so many falsehoods — is nonetheless an outrage. Ms. DuVernay does not define me, and her film does not speak the truth.”

The film has not been great press for Fairstein. When it first debuted, #CancelLindaFairstein trended on social media. As a result of the backlash, she stepped down from the board of Vassar College. She also resigned from the boards of Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation and God’s Love We Deliver.

After leaving the Manhattan D.A.'s office, Fairstein has been making a living as an author. But after the miniseries was released, her publisher dropped her.

On Monday, DuVernay was asked at an event for the movie, hosted by Oprah Winfrey, about Fairstein telling The Daily Beast that the miniseries is “a basket of lies.”

“I think that it’s important that people be held accountable,” DuVernay said. “And that accountability is happening in a way today that it did not happen for the real men 30 years ago.”

However, DuVernay added that it would be “a tragedy if this story and the telling of it came down to one woman being punished” because “it’s not all about her. She is part of a system that is not broken; it was built to be this way. It was built to oppress, it was built to control, it was built to shape our culture in a specific way that kept some people here and some people there. It was built for profit, it was built for political gain. And it has come upon us, it lives off of us — our taxpayer dollars, our votes. We need to be held accountable.”

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