Ava DuVernay Responds to Trump's Refusal to Apologize to Exonerated Men in Central Park Five Case

"You have people on both sides of that," said the president, who called for the death penalty of the five teens in 1989.

Thirty years later, President Trump is still refusing to give an apology to the five men who were wrongly convicted in the Central Park jogger case.

The president was asked about the exoneration of the men when speaking to reporters Tuesday. "Why do you bring that question up now? It's an interesting time to bring it up," Trump said when asked about an apology. "You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein and if you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So, we'll leave it at that."

In 1989, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr. and Korey Wise were accused and subsequently convicted of raping jogger Trisha Meili, who is white, in the New York City park. The five black and brown teens — who were famously dubbed the Central Park Five — were ultimately exonerated in 2002 when a confession from a serial rapist overturned their convictions, which were deemed coerced. 

Ahead of the trials, then-real estate mogul Trump took out full-page ads in four city newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in the state of New York. He then went on several news programs to speak about the teens receiving the death penalty and Trump's response is highlighted in Ava DuVernay's Netflix miniseries about the men, When They See Us.

When They See Us has reignited interest in the case since its May 31 release. Renewed backlash over the missteps that were made from the top down have resulted in both Fairstein, who headed Manhattan's sex crimes unit at the time, and lead prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer resigning from current board and law positions, respectively. Fairstein has also been dropped by her publisher amid the outcry.

McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise were eventually awarded a $41 million settlement from the city and received an apology from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. Trump, who has not mentioned the miniseries, has yet to offer an apology to the men.

"It’s expected,” DuVernay said of Trump doubling down on his opinion at an event Tuesday night. According to the Los Angeles Times, the filmmaker, who created and wrote the series, weighed in by offering a shrug. She was speaking after a Women in Entertainment and Writers Guild of America West screening of When They See Us in Hollywood.

"There’s nothing he says or does in relation to this case or the lives of black people or people of color that has any weight to it. It’s not our reality, there’s no truth to it," she continued. "I wish I had a more juicy sound bite, but I don’t care,” she added, saying the focus should be on “so much more than rage-tweeting back and participating in the negativity that’s so unproductive.”

In a cover story with The Hollywood Reporter before the release of the four-part miniseries, DuVernay said Trump waded into the case because "it made him feel like a player and important. Press conferences ensued. He was on CNN. Those are all the things that we know he wanted at that time. By doing this, he got quite a bit of attention, and still is getting it for doing the same kinds of things. I don't think it was for any real desire to seek justice for Trisha Meili, because if he did feel that way he would have sought it for [Brett Kavanaugh accuser] Christine Blasey Ford. It was an opportunity, and he's an opportunist."

When speaking at the premiere, executive producer Jane Rosenthal said an apology from Trump "would be nice, but an apology still doesn’t bring back all those years. Hopefully what When They See Us does is to say, 'I’m sorry' and to celebrate the spirit of the five men, their souls and who they’ve grown into. The beautiful men that they’ve grown into."

Joshua Jackson, who co-stars as one of the defense lawyers, took a firmer stance. "He took those ads out three days after the crime. Not at the end of the trial. Not when they had been found guilty — even though they were innocent. He took those ads out before anything had been decided," he told THR. "That motherfucker called for 14-, 15- and 16-year-old children to be murdered. That’s a grown man taking out full-page ads for the murder of children. Just let that sink in. He was calling for the murder of children. That’s the president of the United States. The murder of children. It can’t be said enough. He’s not on the wrong side of history. He is the epitome of the problem."