Gorycki: “Netflix, Ava DuVernay Settle Defamation Lawsuit Over ‘When They See Us’,” The Hollywood Reporter


Netflix and Ava DuVernay have settled a lawsuit brought by a former New York City prosecutor who alleged she was defamed over her portrayal in When They See Us, a dramatized mini series about the Central Park Five case. Under the deal, Netflix will move a disclaimer that certain events in the series was dramatized from the credits to the beginning of each episode. The agreement, announced on Tuesday, arrives as the trial was scheduled to start next week. In a statement, DuVernay said she wanted to take the case to trial. She stressed that the resolution Fairstein proposed involved a monetary payment and a disclaimer stating that everything about the ex-prosecutor in the series was fabricated. “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,” the statement said. “As the head of the Manhattan Sex Crimes unit, Linda Fairstein was in the precinct for over 35 hours straight while the boys were interrogated as adults, often without parents present. Fairstein knew what was going on inside those interrogation rooms and controlled who entered, blocking one of the mothers from being with her 15-year-old son.” Throughout the series, Fairstein is portrayed as the face of an unscrupulous criminal justice system intent on securing convictions against five Harlem teenagers alleged to have raped Trisha Meili, a white jogger in Central Park. She’s depicted as directing officers to harshly interrogate the boys in violation of their constitutional rights and ultimately coercing the confessions that landed them in prison. In 2020, she sued for defamation in a lawsuit claiming that certain plot points were reverse-engineered to falsely attribute actions, responsibility and viewpoints to her that weren’t true. The case has been closely watched by industry insiders over the impact it could’ve had on artistic liberties given to creatives overseeing content that chronicles real life events. Last year, the court overseeing the case issued a pivotal ruling when it sided with Fairstein on summary judgment, clearing the lawsuit for trial. U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel found that five scenes could be defamatory. “A reasonable jury could conclude by clear and convincing evidence that the decision to make Fairstein ‘the face’ of the system and the central ‘villain’ caused defendants to act with actual malice by recklessly imputing conduct to Fairstein that is unsupported by the writers’ substantial body of source materials,” the order stated. Kara Gorycki, a lawyer for Fairstein, said in a statement, “It is our sincere hope that this settlement serves as a wakeup call to Netflix and other media companies that they have a responsibility to show fidelity to the truth when portraying real human beings and should not attempt to profit from the utterly false villainization of people, as they did in Linda’s case.”

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