Oprah Winfrey seemed to bask in a glow of pride last week standing onstage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem with a cast of thespians that dramatized the 30-year-old sensationalized Central Park Jogger case she helped finance.
There, inside the landmark showplace to show solidarity with the Netflix film project that will air May 31, Winfrey joined Blair Underwood, Niecy Nash, John Leguizamo, director Ava DuVernay and the rest of the cast for the first public screening of part one of a four-part miniseries.
DuVernay introduced Winfrey and an all-star cast during a preview address to the papered crowd – most of whom on seeing the billionaire broadcast mogul spontaneously burst into applause and a standing ovation.
Their enthusiastic greeting spoke volumes about the role she played in green-lighting production of a crime story that polarized New York when an investment banker named Patricia Miele was found badly beaten in Central Park on April 19, 1989.
“When They See Us” is the title of the docudrama featured through reenactments to recall the controversial case.
Newspaper reports all but indicted Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kairey Wise, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam with frequent inflammatory frontpage coverage and damning editorials.
Assistant District Attorney, Linda Fairstein, the lead prosecutor tasked with sex crimes seemed resolute in making the case against the juveniles.
Then head of the division despite lack of matching DNA evidence, she seemed determined to convict the youths despite lack of corroborating statements and apprehensive support from her colleague, ADA Elizabeth Lederer.
Reasonable doubt did not dispel the pervasive atmosphere of fear that overwhelmed the city.
The fear of minorities “wilding” through a landmark locale demanded urgency from Mayor Edward I Koch and the prosecuting office headed by DA Robert Morgenthau.
Perhaps in his effort to make New York great again, citizen Donald Trump placed a full-page ad in the New York Times newspaper in which he damned the juveniles, professed their guilt and called for their execution.
As a reporter who covered this trial every day for the Amsterdam News and the Daily Challenge, it was difficult to watch the first episode.
Accompanied by former Village Voice reporter Peter Noel, an investigative journalist who also filed regular reports, it was heartening to see an unexplored spotlight on ignored facts.
It also became evident that Hollywood even with compassion added another perspective to the many-sided, historic, New York crime story.
Unlike the 2012 Ken Burns documentary, which tread lightly on the notion of coercion or collusion by police, DuVernay’s lens point directly at shaming both the ineptitude of the DA’s office and outing the racist tactics practiced by the NYPD.
Perhaps the complete four parts will spotlight the unrelenting support the Black community invested in seeing that eventually justice was partially served in awarding a $41 million settlement to the boys now men and fathers of almost a score of children — 10 attributed to Salaam.