I was really looking forward to the Emmys.
I just knew the heartbreaking limited drama series “When They See Us” would walk away with an armful of awards.
After all, he hit all the benchmarks.
The docuseries chronicled one of the biggest American miscarriages of modern times: the wrongful convictions of five black and Latino teens for the 1989 rape and the brutal beating of a jogger in Central Park.
Directed by Ava DuVernay – the brilliant director who also directed “13th,” a documentary on the criminalization of African-American men – the four-part series appealed to me so much that I stuck to the screen until the end.
Frankly, it was as if DuVernay had been cheated.
Although the series received 16 nominations, it was snubbed 14 times, winning an off-air Emmy for the cast, while Jharrel Jerome, who played Korey Wise, won the lead actor award.
Jérôme made history, becoming the youngest and the first Afro Latino to be honored in this way.
Like the audience, I applauded wildly at the announcement of his name.
Wise, who at 16 was the eldest of five falsely accused teenagers, had the worst because he served a sentence in an adult prison where he suffered massive violence from racist inmates and guards .
While audiences could leave these teens behind once the headlines faded, DuVernay forced us to see them – really see them – before, during and after their lives were interrupted.
Now known as the “Exempt Five,” Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Wise walked the purple carpet with DuVernay and were in the audience when Jerome’s award was announced.
Jerome transformed into his character to the point that I didn’t recognize him when he leapt onto the stage to reclaim his well-deserved honor.
After thanking his mother and the other people who helped him reach his big time, Jerome recognized what had brought him there.
“Most important is for the men we know as the Exempt Five,” Jerome said, waving his Emmy, during his acceptance speech.
Without a doubt, the DuVernay series had stiff competition. She lost to another powerful docuserie, “Chernobyl”, for best limited series.
Still, I don’t understand.
None of these series were intended for entertainment or amusement. They were both difficult to watch. In fact, even though I’ve raved about “When They See Us”, I know people who still can’t stand watching this dark chapter unfold.
But “When they see us” is a series that finally gave voice to the exonerated population. Because no matter how much money these men received in lawsuits, nothing can restore their youth.
Frankly, I couldn’t wait for the third episode of “Chernobyl”. I was put off by the oddity that the actors spoke English while all the signage was in Russian.
It wasn’t an oversight but a conscious decision on the part of the showrunners. The bet has been won since Johan Renck won the award for making a limited series.
But I haven’t been so disappointed since Steven Spielberg was snatched from an Oscar for “The Color Purple”.
No matter what you thought of the subject, the film was a thing of beauty and a triumph for Spielberg.
DuVernay is on a similar course.
She was the first black woman to win an Achievement Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the first to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director, and the first black woman to direct an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.
With cities slowly advancing towards true criminal justice reform, the time seemed right for another breakthrough for DuVernay’s groundbreaking work.
While DuVernay can clearly rake in millions on business ventures, she is tackling stories that force many of us to reconsider what we think we know about our criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, this pursuit is not always valued in the same way that stories like “Chernobyl” are.
Maybe that’s because after something as horrific as a nuclear disaster is over, we take care.
But the railroad and the bogus imprisonment of colored men are still debated when it should be a matter of history.