Fairstein, Netflix Reach Agreement in Defamation Case Over Central Park Five Miniseries


In an unanticipated turn of events, Linda Fairstein, the pioneering prosecutor once at Manhattan’s helm of sex crimes, and digital powerhouse Netflix, have reached a resolution in the defamation lawsuit pending for four years over the former’s depiction in a miniseries about the Central Park Five.

The quintet, consisting of five Black and Latino teens wrongfully convicted but later exonerated, formed the crux of the streaming service’s 2019 four-part miniseries— “When They See Us”. Fairstein asserted that the program exhibited her character as a “racist, unethical villain,” attributing to her actions, responsibilities, and viewpoints that were misrepresented. A looming trial anticipated later this month was obviated by the settlement announcement, which nurtures mixed sentiments.

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Fairstein was both forthright and pensive in the announcement, admitting that the withdrawal from the legal struggle was not an effortless decision. She held an unshakeable conviction that a riveting case capable of swaying the jury was on the cusp of being presented. The terms of the settlement comprise no monetary recompense for Fairstein; instead, Netflix will contribute a sum of $1 million to the Innocence Project, an organization ingrained with the mission of liberating wrongfully convicted individuals.

A newfound feature for viewers of the series is a disclaimer stating the dramatization of certain characters, incidents, locations, dialogue, and names, although inspired by real-life events and individuals. Be that as it may, Fairstein emphasized the lawsuit’s agenda. Its roots did not grow in materialistic expectations or the desire to emerge victorious; instead, they sprouted from a need to reinstate her and her colleagues’ reputations and rectify the historical narrative.

In the backdrop of 1989, Fairstein occupied the Manhattan’s top sex crimes prosecution post when the five teenagers were accused of assaulting a jogger in Central Park. The convictions witnessed a dramatic overturn in 2002, following the confession of Matias Reyes, a serial rapist convict, claiming sole participation in the heinous act— a confession backed up by DNA evidence.

Fairstein, post-retirement from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, turned a new leaf as a best-selling crime author. However, her career saw a significant setback post the debut of “When They See Us.” She was dismissed by her publisher and stepped down from several boards.

Ava DuVernay, the talented spearhead behind the series—directing and co-writing, along with Attica Locke, the writer and producer, were cited defendants in the lawsuit. Despite the lawsuit’s resolution, DuVernay’s faith in Fairstein’s integral role in the prosecution of the five teens remains unwavering.

DuVernay asserts that Fairstein bore witness to the adult interrogation of the boys, lasting over 35 hours without parents’ presence. Her accusations continue to paint Fairstein’s reluctance to face a jury, and the hope that one day, the latter comes to terms with her participation in the so-called “miscarriage of justice”.