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When They See Us: Judge allows lawsuit by Central Park Five prosecutor Linda Fairstein against Netflix

Netflix has said that it will continue to ‘vigorously defend’ the series and its team

Peony Hirwani
Tuesday 10 August 2021 09:09 BST
When They See Us trailer

A federal judge has ruled that former New York City prosecutor Linda Fairstein can sue Netflix over claims that she was defamed by the series When They See Us.

Released in 2019, Ava DuVernay’s drama series followed the true story of the Central Park Five – Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise – as they faced trial for the rape of a female Manhattan jogger in 1989.

Prosecutor Fairstein, who was portrayed by Felicity Huffman on the show, initially sued Netflix, DuVernay and writer Attica Locke in March 2020. She claimed that the series depicted her as a “racist, unethical villain” who framed five young men of colour.

On Monday (9 August), Judge Kevin Castel ruled that Fairstein conceivably asserted defamation as to five scenes in the three-part series.

“The average viewer could conclude that these scenes have a basis in fact and do not merely reflect the creators’ opinions about controversial historical events,” the judge wrote.

Fairstein’s attorney, Andrew Miltenberg said he was very “pleased” with the ruling.

He said in a statement: “We are glad that Ms Fairstein now has the opportunity to pursue her claims with respect to five critical scenes in the series that falsely depict Ms Fairstein engaging in coercive and discriminatory conduct in order to build a case against innocent young men of colour.”

Netflix, on the other hand, said that it will continue to “vigorously defend” the series and its team.

“We’re thankful for Judge Castel’s thoughtful assessment of the issues,” the company said in a statement. “We’ll continue to vigorously defend When They See Us and the incredible team behind the series, and we’re confident that we’ll prevail against Ms Fairstein’s few remaining claims.”

After the series premiered in 2019, Fairstein faced plenty of backlash and was dropped by her publisher as a result of the controversy surrounding the show and its story.

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She also resigned as a trustee member of the Vasser College board and three non-profit organisations, including two that support victims of sexual violence.

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