New York City Prosecutor Hits Netflix With Libel Suit Over 'When They See Us'

Linda Fairstein objects to being portrayed as a racist in Ava DuVernay's docuseries about the "Central Park Five."
Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix
Netflix's 'When They See Us'

Linda Fairstein, a New York City prosecutor, is suing Netflix and Ava DuVernay over When They See Us. On Wednesday, she filed a libel complaint in Florida federal court.

When They See Us, released last year, is a four-part docuseries about the investigation, prosecution and exoneration of the "Central Park Five," five African American men who were wrongfully convicted of a 1989 sexual assault. Those convictions were vacated based on DNA evidence and the confession of another man who came forward in 2002. The men later sued New York and prosecutors, including Fairstein, and obtained a settlement.

Fairstein says she didn't personally prosecute the "Central Park Five," although she was head of the Manhattan District Attorney's sex crimes unit in 1989.

DuVernay's film featured some of her work.

"When They See Us portrays Ms. Fairstein in a false and defamatory manner in nearly every scene in the three episodes in which she appears, portrayed by actress Felicity Huffman," states the complaint. "The film series’ portrayal of Ms. Fairstein cannot be justified as the mere use of artistic license or dramatization. In the film series, which Defendants have marketed and promoted as a true story, Defendants depict Ms. Fairstein — using her true name — as a racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost."

Fairstein adds that it's not accurate that she "masterminds a theory of the case against the children by, among other things: unlawfully interrogating unaccompanied minors; calling for a roundup of 'young, black' 'thugs'; manipulating a timeline of events to pin the rape of the Central Park jogger on The Five; referring to people of color as 'animals'; directing NYPD detectives to coerce confessions from unaccompanied minors who are beaten while in custody; suppressing DNA evidence; and forcing her colleague to prosecute a meritless case against The Five."

Netflix responded in a statement on Friday, “Linda Fairstein's frivolous lawsuit is without merit. We intend to vigorously defend When They See Us and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series.”

Here's the full complaint.

This is not the first libel lawsuit that When They See Us has attracted. Netflix is also facing a lawsuit from a company that trains police departments on interrogation techniques.