A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that When They See Us is a dramatization of the Central Park Five case, in which five teenagers were wrongly convicted of the violent rape of a 28-year-old woman. The 1990 trial was widely publicized at the time and has become an example of institutional racism within the police and the American justice system. This miniseries, created by Selma filmmaker Ava DuVernay, focuses on a large cross-section of people involved with the case, from the teens and their parents to the police and prosecutors. Violence includes a teen being beaten by a police officer, but the central crime isn't shown on-screen. The complex subject matter makes this brutal but often powerful series most appropriate for older teens and adults.
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What's the story?
WHEN THEY SEE US begins on a spring night as a large group of kids from Harlem go walking through Central Park. Some are just hanging out, while others are harassing bicyclists and getting into fights until the police come and make a handful of forceful arrests. The next morning, the police discover that the violent rape of a 28-year-old woman has also taken place in Central Park, and suspect the teens. They zero in on five kids, using illegal and manipulative tactics to force confessions from them. This is a dramatic account of the aftermath of this real-life New York City crime that shook the country. Prosecutor Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman) states her case against the Five during courtroom proceedings, while the teens' parents are portrayed by actors including Niecy Nash and John Leguizamo.
Is it any good?
While it addresses an important subject and problematic piece of recent American history, this ambitious miniseries often depicts the complex idea of institutional racism in generalities and broad strokes. Despite being 30 years old, the Central Park Five case is still relevant, both in that it represents a clear case of racism in the American legal system, and because of Donald Trump's continued engagement with the case (he has called for the execution of the Central Park Five even after they were completely exonerated).
When They See Us seems to portray the NYPD as uniformly corrupt and racist: There's not a single voice of dissent among the officers, which, while dramatic, seems unlikely. On the other side, the Central Park Five all have nearly identical story arcs. More nuance would have brought such a complex and important subject the full gravity it deserves.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the justice system works. When a crime is committed, how do the police in When They See Us respond? How does this compare with your interactions with the police? How does it compare with other depictions of police on television?
Who behaves ethically in this series? Why do you think the boys were targeted?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love real-life stories
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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