Filmmaker Ava DuVernay and streaming service Netflix have won a defamation lawsuit over the award-winning limited series “When They See Us”, which was infused with themes of racism and injustice inflicted upon by the criminal system.
A federal judge ruled in favour of Netflix and director DuVernay on Monday, throwing out a defamation suit over the show about the Central Park jogger case, reports variety.com.
John E. Reid and Associates, a police training firm, filed the suit last year, alleging that the series had falsely portrayed the “Reid Technique” — widely used method for conducting interrogations.
In his ruling, Judge Manish S. Shah found that the series’ depiction was protected under the First Amendment.
The four-part documentary series narrated the true story of five teens — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, who were wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman in 1989. They were referred to as the Central Park Five or the Exonerated Five.
“You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision,” the character said, adding: “The Reid Technique has been universally rejected.”
The police training firm alleged that the statement falsely characterized the technique, and incorrectly stated that the technique had been “universally rejected”.
Judge Shah found that the show employed loose rhetoric about the technique, protecting it from a defamation claim.
“‘Universally’ is hyperbolic and the prosecutor cannot be taken literally to assert that all intelligent life in the known universe has rejected the technique — which means his statement is an imprecise, overwrought exclamation,” Shah wrote, adding: “The statement was also made by a fictionalized character, during a fictionalized conversation… And while labeling something ‘fictitious’ will not insulate it from a defamation action… placing non-verifiable hyperbole in the mouth of a fictionalized character with an ax to grind provides a few layers of protection from civil damages for defamation.”
Last week, former prosecutor Linda Fairstein filed her own defamation lawsuit against Netflix and DuVernay over the series, claiming that she was falsely portrayed as the racist mastermind behind the prosecution of the Central Park Five. Netflix said it would vigorously defend that lawsuit.
The show won hearts as well as awards. Actor Jharrel Jerome made history by becoming the youngest person to win an Emmy in Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie category for his portrayal of Korey Wise.