Netflix is made for bingeing, but filmmaker Ava DuVernay thinks that audiences should watch her Central Park Five miniseries ‘When They See Us’ at their own pace.
The four-part series explores the true story of five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were coerced into confessing to a rape they didn’t commit in 1989 and follows them over the course of 25 years. It’s currently available to Netflix subscribers.
DuVernay said the viewing experience will be different for everyone.
“I think it really is going to depend on where you are politically and culturally,” she said in an interview last month. “For some people this is all going to be new, like, ‘Wait, what?’ And for other people it’s deeply felt because they’ve experienced it in their lives as people of colour or people who faced injustice.”
While many might choose to watch all five hours in one sitting, the ‘Selma’ filmmaker knows that method might now work for all.
“I shared it with a bunch of people and some people really need to take breaks after and some people want to power through,” DuVernay said.
She experienced something similar when her Oscar-nominated prison system documentary ‘13th’ hit the streaming service in 2016.
“There were people that couldn’t watch that straight through and it was only 100 minutes,” she said. “But Netflix gives you the luxury of being able to do it in a space and at a time when you’re comfortable. It’s always there. And I think that’s what this offering is. Hopefully people will engage with it where and when they want.”
The storytelling itself is intended to be a little unconventional, even for people immersed in true crime stories. DuVernay wanted to blend aspects of the “crime drama” and the “family drama” genres to “really dig into truth and justice.”
“A lot of the crime dramas deal with the sensational element. They deal with the spectacle of the crime, the spectacle of the loss. Family dramas usually have nuance or are a bit slower,” she said. “I tried to put those together in a way that I don’t feel I’ve seen a lot of, especially applied to black people.”
She also hopes that those inclined to watch things like ‘The Night Of’ and ‘Making a Murderer’ will want to dig into this story in a similar way.
“This is true. This is real. This has political repercussions. Can we apply that genre of the crime drama that’s become so popular now and in the limited series format and apply that to a case that has real world stakes even now?” DuVernay said. “I don’t know what the answer is. We’ll see.”