A casting call has gone out to find the four leads of Ava DuVernay’s five-part Netflix miniseries based on the Central Park Five.
The ‘Central Park jogger’ was one of the most high-profile crime cases of the late 1980s. On the night of April 19, 1989, a white female jogger named Trisha Meili was assaulted and raped, which left her in a coma for 12 days. The same night, five juvenile males—four black and one of Hispanic descent—were apprehended in connection with a number of attacks in Central Park committed by around 30 teenage perpetrators. The defendants were tried variously for assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse, and attempted murder relating to Meili’s attack and the other attacks in the park, based solely on confessions that they said were coerced and false. Before the trial, the FBI tested the DNA of the rape kit and found it did not match to any of the tested suspects. The office of District Attorney Robert Morgenthau presented these findings to the press as inconclusive. They were convicted in 1990 by juries in two separate trials. Subsequently, known as the ‘Central Park Five,’ they received sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years. Four of the convictions were appealed and the convictions were affirmed by appellate courts. The defendants spent between 6 and 13 years in prison.
This case was notoriously taken up a cause célèbre by Donald Trump, who, on May 1, 1989, took out a full page ad in the New York Times convinced of the group’s guilt saying “These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.” On the campaign trail for the Presidency in 2016, Trump maintained and reiterated that they were still guilty even though their convictions were vacated in 2002 when the sole perpetrator came forward and confessed, supported by DNA evidence. The men sued the city of New York in 2003. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t support settlements. The city, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, settled the case for $41 million in 2014.
Here are the four main roles the producers are looking for:
Kevin Richardson: male, 14 years old. African-American. Baby-faced with a chunky, athletic build. A polite teen with interests in music and jazz.
Korey Wise: Male, 16 years old. African-American. 5’2″, a tender but tough ease to him.
Yusef Salaam: Male, 15 years old. African-American. Nerdy and cool. An A.P. (advanced placement) student, strikingly tall and beanpole thin, 6’3″ tall.
Raymond Santana: Male, 14 years old. Mixed ethnicity of Puerto Rican and African-American. Described as having an open quality in personality of humor and play.
This is DuVernay’s second project with Netflix, the first being her Oscar-nominated documentary feature 13TH. “I had an extraordinary experience working with Netflix on 13TH and am overjoyed to continue this exploration of the criminal justice system as a narrative project with Cindy Holland and the team there,” DuVernay said in a statement.
“The story of the men known as the Central Park Five has riveted me for more than two decades. In their journey, we witness five innocent young men of color who were met with injustice at every turn — from coerced confessions to unjust incarceration to public calls for their execution by the man who would go on to be the president of the United States.”
Central Park Five is being produced by DuVernay, Jane Rosenthal, Berry Welsh, Jonathan King and Oprah Winfrey. Production will begin this summer with an air date most likely in 2019 near the 30th anniversary of the case.
Here is the official casting call.