Ava DuVernay, MasterClass

With ‘When They See Us’ Defamation Case Dropped, Ava DuVernay Blasts Central Park Five Prosecutor

'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.'

Central Park Five prosecutor Linda Fairstein didn’t want Ava DuVernay talking about her to the public. But since she pulled out of her defamation trial with no money, DuVernay isn’t holding back her true thoughts on the former prosecutor.

The Academy Award-winning filmmaker shared a lengthy statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Tuesday, June 4, in response to Fairstein’s defamation suit over her depiction in the Emmy-winning Netflix series, When They See Us.

Fairstein, a former New York City prosecutor, claimed Felicity Huffman’s portrayal of her made her look like a “racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost.”

However, after four years of legal back-and-forth and hours before they were to share their arguments before a New York jury, Fairstein exited the case with no financial settlement. Instead, a deal was reached with Netflix to donate $1 million to the Innocence Project.

“After years of legal wrangling and millions of dollars spent, [former prosecutor Linda Fairstein] walked away with no payment to her or her lawyers of any kind, rather than face cross-examination before a New York jury as to her conduct and character,” DuVernay said in her statement.

The Array founder revealed the terms of Fairstein’s defamation demands which included a cash payment and disclaimer atop the When They See Us series claiming that all scenes that depicted her were “fabricated.” DuVernay and Netflix refused to make the changes. Fairstein also wanted a gag order that would prevent series’ co-writer Attica Locke from talking about her publicly.

While DuVernay agreed not to talk about Fairstein if the former prosecutor wouldn’t speak about the Exonerated Five ever again. Fairstein refused. Now as a result of her “desire to continue to push her narrative of guilt upon the Exonerated Five,” DuVernay wrote, it “allows me to share what I feel about her claims for the first time.”

“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,” she said.

DuVernary also highlighted details about the case, including the 35 hours of interrogation Fairstein oversaw where the then-teenage boys were examined as adults with no parents present and the disappointment her former boss, NY District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, expressed in Fairstein’s handling of the case.

“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,” DuVernay explained.

Fairstein released released a statement saying, “The decision to conclude this fight was not an easy one.” But DuVernay believes her actions highlight how fearful Fairstein was 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 said..

Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise were wrongfully convicted by a Fairstein-led prosecution in the near-fatal 1989 rape of a white woman who was jogging in Central Park. Twelve years later, serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes confessed to the rape and attack while serving time for another crime.

DNA testing confirmed Reyes’ confession, and the Central Park Five became known as the Exonerated Five after having their names cleared in 2014. Reyes never was never prosecuted for the rape due to New York’s statute of limitations on sex crimes at the time.