REVIEW: 'When They See Us'

(Left) Ethan Herisse as Yusef Salman in 'When They See Us.' (Netflix)
Updated 12 June 2019

REVIEW: 'When They See Us'

  • Powerful and distressing reconstruction of a miscarriage of justice

DUBAI: “When They See Us” is the story of five young lives wrecked by abuse of power, institutional racism and the fragility of truth in the face of the juggernaut that is the criminal justice system.

Director Ava DuVernay has done a remarkable job with this miniseries, a dramatization of the now infamous case of Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana — who came to be known, collectively, as the Central Park Five.

One night in 1989, the five young teens, separately or in pairs, joined a crowd of other boys from Harlem rushing into the park — apparently without any specific goal — and through a series of events that, if this was fiction, would be dismissed as too far-fetched, came to be arrested, convicted and sentenced for the rape and vicious beating of Trisha Melli, a young white woman who was out jogging that night and whose body was found in the early hours of the following morning.

All the signs at the crime scene point to the attack being the work of a single assailant, but — swayed by news of several assaults carried out by a small minority of the black teenagers in the park, and of the arrest of “a bunch of turds” in another area of the park, the head of the District Attorney’s sex crimes unit, Linda Fairstein, concocts her own narrative — one in which the teenagers are characterized as “animals,” prowling in “a pack,” seeking destruction and violence. 

The mostly white authorities are not portrayed as blatant, outspoken racists. Rather their prejudice is just there — a part of their lives and the lives of those around them. It is terrifying how quickly they all accept this flimsy concoction of an explanation, and even more terrifying how they cajole the vulnerable teenagers into backing it up, through a mixture of intimidation, actual violence, cajoling and outright lies during the boys’ unattended, unrecorded interviews.  

The performances of the five actors playing the teens are all magnificent, conveying the disorientation, innocence, fear and vulnerability of these young victims with heartbreaking credibility.

The four episodes follow the story through to the men’s exoneration in 2002 — when the actual rapist, without coercion, confessed. By that point, of course, their childhoods have been lost and, even after serving their time, their lives ruined, as the third episode shows.

This is a masterful piece of television, albeit one that incites anger and disbelief much of the time. And sadly, it’s a story that isn’t too hard to imagine happening today.


Cinema Akil founder brings the magic of independent movies to Dubai

Updated 18 August 2019

Cinema Akil founder brings the magic of independent movies to Dubai

  • Butheina Kazim founded Cinema Akil in 2014 as a platform for independent cinema
  • Kazim’s next goal is to expand the Cinema Akil concept from Dubai to the region

DUBAI:  Butheina Kazim has brought the magic of art-house movies to Dubai, through her project Cinema Akil.

Having worked in television, radio and film acquisitions, Butheina Kazim founded Cinema Akil in 2014 as a platform for independent cinema. For Kazim, who has also produced her own film “Letters to Palestine,” the project is about more than just watching films, it’s also for building community. 

She introduced the concept with pop-up screenings, but since last year Cinema Akil has a permanent theatre in Dubai’s art district on Al-Serkal Avenue. Step into the 133-seater theater, and you are transported to an old-school picture house.

“The permanent space allows us to release films every single night of the year. The programming is often exclusive and can’t be seen elsewhere,” said Kazim. But the pop-up format will always be part of Cinema Akil. “Our nomadic life allows us to reach different communities by bringing free public cinema to people.” 

Kazim works closely with special events such as Dubai Shopping Festival’s Market Out of the Box and Fashion Forward initiatives and has screened over 350 films across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

In summer, the cinema space’s robust line-up continues. “There’s a mythical Dubai exodus that everyone speaks of as soon as summer hits,” said Kazim. Some of Cinema Akil’s August highlights include “Straight Out of Berlin,” a series of eight films in collaboration with the Goethe Institut, which explores the many faces and tunnels of the German capital city.

There was even a “Cat Weekend” on International Cat Day earlier this month, when films that celebrate all things feline were screened.

Kazim has been encouraged by the region’s response to art cinema: “We’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm. Films we never expected to succeed, such “Cold War” by Pawel Pawlikowski and “Capernaum” by Nadine Labaki, had a wonderful response. It’s magical when that happens.”

Kazim’s next goal is to expand the Cinema Akil concept from Dubai to the region, giving cinephiles all over the Gulf a chance to enjoy independent films.