‘When They See Us’: Niecy Nash, Michael K. Williams, and Marsha Stephanie Blake on the Powerful Story

     June 7, 2019


Created, co-written and expertly directed by Ava DuVernay, the four-part Netflix limited series When They See Us chronicles the notorious case of the five teenagers of color from Harlem – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise – who became labeled the Central Park Five, after being accused of a violent rape in New York in the spring of 1989. After being questioned as teenagers and pressured to confess, they were convicted and sentenced and served between 6 and 13 years in prison before their exoneration in 2002, and watching their journey will break your heart, turn you into a sobbing mess who’s angry at the injustice of it all, and inspire hope.

During this phone interview with Collider, co-stars Niecy Nash (who plays Korey’s mother, Delores), Michael K. Williams (who plays Antron McCray’s father, Bobby) and Marsha Stephanie Blake (who plays Antron McCray’s mother, Linda) talked about how deeply affected they were by the story of When They See Us, realizing just how false the narrative about these young men truly was, what most angered them and inspired them about everything that happened, the heartbreaking scene between Niecy Nash and Isis King, why they loved working with Ava DuVernay, and what they hope audiences take from seeing this.

when-they-see-us-posterCollider:  Really tremendous work from everyone in this. Everything about the way this story is told was just beautifully and thoughtfully handled, and it’s something everybody should truly be proud of, on every level. Before this project came your way, do you feel like you knew about this case, and who these men were and the details of this story, or was that also very eye-opening for you?

MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS:  The main thing that I didn’t know was how grossly mistreated they were. All we had to go on was the narrative that we were getting from the press, which was that they signed a confession and admitted to it. When you read the scripts and saw the narrative, and how the police department so grossly broke the law, I didn’t know those things had happened, specifically with the interrogation process.

MARSHA STEPHANIE BLAKE:  It’s interesting, I thought I knew this case better, and then after reading the transcripts and the script of the four-part series, I realized that I didn’t really know anything. There was so much information that was kept from us, as the public, and so many things that were told to us that were lies or bending of the truth. There were so many levels of misconception that happened. As a child, I remember the fear in the community and the fear in my house, but also feeling like I knew these kids had done something. They may not have done that, but they did something. I feel like that so often is what we hear, but the truth is that they had done nothing.

NIECY NASH:  Now, we’re at a point where we have to judge what we hear because everything that we we’re told is a lie. This is the first time these men have been able to get their story told through their prism and their experience. We only knew what we were told, and we were all told a whole bag of lies. As it turns out, none of what they were accused of and none of the things that they served time for was anything that they ever actually did.