Seeing, being seen

When They See Us, the Netflix limited series directed and co-written by Ava DuVernay, is about the Central Park Five, the five kids, African American and Latino, who in 1989 were accused of assault and rape and sentenced to maximum terms based on nothing more than coerced false confessions, when they hadn’t been anywhere near the scene of crime. The series is about racism and about a legal system designed not to find the guilty but to fabricate them. It is about how a deeply broken system failed the five accused. In telling a story about the late ’80s and early ’90s, it is also very much about present-day America and about how the system is still just as corrupt in many ways. The law may be many things, but if you’re black, don’t expect it to be just.

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Don’t take it personally, it just ain’t your story

I grew up roughly during the last dozen years of Apartheid, in a country that lived up to its tradition of supposed neutrality covering up business connections to an unsavoury regime. I faintly remember people boycotting Granny Smith apples and, somewhat less faintly, Eddy Grant’s song “Gimme Hope Jo’anna”. What I remember most from those times, though, is Cry Freedom, a 1987 film that zeroed in on the human cost of Apartheid: the exile of a liberal, middle-class white journalist and his family from their chosen home of South Africa.

Oh, and there was also something a corrupt, racist police apparatus torturing and killing the black activist and community leader Steve Biko.

Selma isn’t like that.

Selma

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