REVIEW: 'When They See Us'

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


Lefaucheux revolver ‘Van Gogh killed himself with’ up for auction

Updated 17 June 2019
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Lefaucheux revolver ‘Van Gogh killed himself with’ up for auction

  • Van Gogh experts believe that he shot himself with the gun near the village of Auvers-sur-Oise north of Paris
  • The seven-millimeter Lefaucheux revolver is expected to fetch up to $67,000

PARIS: The revolver with which Vincent van Gogh is believed to have shot himself is to go under the hammer Wednesday at a Paris auction house.
Billed as “the most famous weapon in the history of art,” the seven mm Lefaucheux revolver is expected to fetch up to $67,000 (€60,000).
Van Gogh experts believe that he shot himself with the revolver near the village of Auvers-sur-Oise north of Paris, where he spent the last few months of his life in 1890.
Discovered by a farmer in 1965 in the same field where the troubled Dutch painter is thought to have fatally wounded himself, the gun has already been exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
While Art Auction, who are selling the gun, say there is no way of being absolutely certain that it is the fatal weapon, tests showed it had been in the ground for 75 years, which would fit.
The Dutch artist had borrowed the gun from the owner of the inn in the village where he was staying.
He died 36 hours later after staggering wounded back to the auberge in the dark.
It was not his first dramatic act of self-harm. Two years earlier in 1888, he cut off his ear before offering it to a woman in a brothel in Arles in the south of France.
While most art historians agree that Van Gogh killed himself, that assumption has been questioned in recent years, with some researchers claiming that the fatal shot may have been fired accidentally by two local boys playing with the weapon in the field.
That theory won fresh support from a new biopic of the artist starring Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate.”
Its director, the renowned American painter Julian Schnabel, said that Van Gogh had painted 75 canvasses in his 80 days at Auvers-sur-Oise and was unlikely to be suicidal.
The legendary French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere — who co-wrote the script with Schnabel — insisted that there “is absolutely no proof he killed himself.
“Do I believe that Van Gogh killed himself? Absolutely not!” he declared when the film was premiered at the Venice film festival last September.
He said Van Gogh painted some of his best work in his final days, including his “Portrait of Dr. Gachet,” the local doctor who later tried to save his life.
It set a world record when it sold for $82.5 million in 1990.
The bullet Dr. Gachet extracted from Van Gogh’s chest was the same caliber as the one used by the Lefaucheux revolver.
“Van Gogh was working constantly. Every day he made a new work. He was not at all sad,” Carriere argued.
In the film the gun goes off after the two young boys, who were brothers, got into a struggle with the bohemian stranger.
Auction Art said that the farmer who found the gun in 1965 gave it to the owners of the inn at Auvers-sur-Oise, whose family are now selling it.
“Technical tests on the weapon have shown the weapon was used and indicate that it stayed in the ground for a period that would coincide with 1890,” it said.
“All these clues give credence to the theory that this is the weapon used in the suicide.”
That did not exclude, the auction house added, that the gun could also have been hidden or abandoned by the two young brothers in the field.
The auction comes as crowds are flocking to an immersive Van Gogh exhibition in the French capital which allows “the audience to enter his landscapes” through projections on the gallery’s walls, ceilings and floors.
“Van Gogh, Starry Night” runs at the Atelier des Lumieres in the east of the city until December.