Ava DuVernay Wins Lawsuit Against Central Park 5 Prosecutor

If you thought you’d heard the last of former Manhattan DA Linda Fairstein back when the Central Park Five/Exonerated Five case gripped the nation—I regret to inform you that she’s once again back in the news. Only this time instead of going after innocent Black boys—she’s set her sights on acclaimed film director Ava DuVernay. I’ll explain.

Unbeknownst to many, back in 2020, Fairstein sued DuVernay and Netflix for her depiction in their Emmy-nominated series When They See Us, which chronicled the gross injustices wright upon five innocent Black and brown boys. Fairstein alleged that the four-part series portrayed her a “racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost.” She sought unspecified damages unspecified damages, an apology, disclaimer on the series and the removal of the scenes she alleges aren’t true. While DuVernay remained quiet at the time, Netflix immediately shut down Fairstein’s case, calling her allegations “frivolous” and “without merit.” The trial was set to begin on June 10 of this year.

However, in a move that can only be described as yet another form of poetic justice, the three parties have now settled the suit as of this week. The cherry on top? Fairstein is walking away with no money, no apology, and no scene removal. Her only reward is Netflix’s agreement to move the disclaimer they already had present on the series—which reminds viewers that this is a dramatization of real life events—to the beginning of the episodes that Fairstein is predominately in. Additionally, the streamer is donating $1 million to the Innocence Project.

Now that the legal dust has finally been settled, DuVernay has come out on top—a small callback to how the Exonerated Five did all those years ago. And in a lengthy statement to her personal Instagram, the Selma director broke her silence on the lawsuit and Fairstein’s allegations writing in part:

“I believe that Linda Fairstein was responsible for the investigation and prosecution of the Central Park Jogger case that resulted in the wrongful conviction of five innocent Black and Brown boys. As the head of the Manhattan Sex Crimes unit, Linda Fairstein was in the precinct for over 35 hours straight while the boys were interrogated as adults, often without parents present. Linda Fairstein knew what was going on inside those interrogation rooms and controlled who entered, blocking one of the mothers from being with her 15 year old son.

Linda Fairstein is the woman whose boss, legendary NY District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, entrusted with the case, later telling The NY Times that “his trust in her was misplaced” and that she disappointed him. Linda Fairstein to this day maintains that the Exonerated Five are guilty despite the fact that DNA evidence never matched any of the boys, but perfectly matched a convicted serial rapist who admitted his guilt and who always acted alone.

Throughout this legal ordeal that she instigated, Linda Fairstein painted herself as the victim, as someone who has been wronged by our storytelling in WHEN THEY SEE US. She has suggested that the false story she tells about these wrongfully incarcerated men is the only right one, and that their experiences are not worth being heard or believed. She claimed that the series resulted in the loss of her publishing contract and other positions of power she’d held.

“WHEN THEY SEE US did not get Linda Fairstein canceled. Linda Fairstein’s own actions and words are responsible for everything that she is experiencing. In the days leading up to her defamation trial, Linda Fairstein decided that she was not willing to face a jury of her peers. It’s a phenomenon that often happens with bullies. When you stand up to them, unafraid, they often take their ball and go home,” she added.

Read her full statement here. Fairstein has also since responded at length, saying that “The decision to conclude this fight was not an easy one.” Tough luck.

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