Streaming giant Netflix has been hit with a defamation lawsuit concerning a popular 2019 show on its platform.
Netflix has been ordered by a federal judge to face a defamation lawsuit regarding the drama When They See Us. The legal action comes from bestselling author and former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein regarding her portrayal in the show.
When They See Us is a four-part miniseries focusing on the story of the Central Park Five, later the Exonerated Five. The Black and Latino teenagers, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the rape and assault of 28-year-old Trisha Meili in New York’s Central Park in April 1989.
Four of them were charged as juveniles, with Wise charged as an adult, and they spent from seven to 13 years in prison. In 2002, the real attacker, Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime.
At the time of the case, Fairstein was head of the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. She held the position from 1976 until 2002. She oversaw the prosecution of the five defendants in the Central Park Jogger case. Actress Felicity Huffman played her character in the series.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel has said in a filing on September 19 that there was plausible evidence indicating that When They See Us director Ava DuVernay and writer-producer Attica Locke acted with actual malice regarding Fairstein’s depiction.
In the 67-page decision, Fairstein said that her “portrayal in these scenes is false and defamatory and is a product of actual malice.” Newsweek has reached out to Netflix and Linda Fairstein via email for comment.
The evidence Castel references stated that by “opting to portray Fairstein as the series villain who was intended to embody the perceived injustices of a broader system, defendants reverse-engineered plot points to attribute actions, responsibilities and viewpoints to Fairstein that were not hers and are unsupported in defendants’ substantial body of research materials.”
In the findings, Castel said that a jury must weigh in and determine “whether there is clear and convincing evidence that defendants were recklessly indifferent to the truth.”
Fairstein filed her initial case in 2020. The current lawsuit is Fairstein v. Netflix Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 20-08042.
Netflix is no stranger to lawsuits, with legal issues stemming from the upcoming movie Queen Cleopatra and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s December 2022 docuseries Harry & Meghan.
In July, a YouTuber accused the Duke and Duchess of Sussex of “slander” and “mischaracterization” in their show; while an Egyptian lawyer filed a lawsuit over Queen Cleopatra, accusing the streaming service of erasing the ruler’s Egyptian identity by depicting the ruler as a Black woman.