With filming gearing up to begin in August, Ava DuVernay has added Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga, and John Leguizamo to the cast of her Central Park Five limited series. The project marks the second collaboration for the Selma and A Wrinkle in Time director with Netflix after their efforts on the Oscar-nominated documentary 13th. Whereas that film examines how the U.S. criminal justice system has contributed to racial inequality in the country since the passing of the 13th Amendment (which abolishes slavery), Central Park Five zeroes in on a particularly egregious miscarriage of justice involving five young men of color from Harlem, who were convicted of raping a woman in 1989. Their names were ultimately cleared in the 2000s, thanks to DNA evidence and a confession from the real assailant.
DuVernay is directing all four episodes of Central Park Five, in addition to cowriting the series with Attica Locke (Empire), Michael Starrbury (Legends of Chamberlain Heights), and Robin Swicord (The Promise). The limited series further reunites DuVernay behind the camera with her Selma cinematographer Bradford Young, who is coming off the one-two punch of Arrival and Solo: A Star Wars Story. Netflix has its eye on a 2019 premiere date for the project, which is why casting is underway now.
According to Deadline, Williams and Leguizamo are playing the fathers of two of the Central Park Five (Bobby McCray and Raymond Santana, Sr.), with Farmiga playing Manhattan Assistant D.A. Elizabeth Lederer, who led the prosecution in the case against the five young men. All three actors are decorated veterans when it comes to television acting, with Leguizamo being fresh off his performance as Ozzy Delvecchio from Netflix's familial crime saga Bloodline. The Central Park Five themselves have not been formally cast yet, but that should change within the next four weeks or so.
One of the more infamous players in the Central Park Five case is president Donald Trump, who spent around $85,000 to place full-page ads in New York City's four daily newspapers in 1989, demanding the death penalty for the Five: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise. It stands to reason that Trump will figure into the narrative of DuVernay's limited series in some way, much like footage from his presidential run was incorporated into 13th.
The Central Park Five series itself is shaping up to be another thought-provoking and otherwise compelling lesson on U.S. history and racism from DuVernay, in between her big-budget ventures with A Wrinkle in Time and DC's upcoming New Gods movie. It also gives Netflix a contender in the limited TV series arena, come awards season time. HBO has dominated that field for years and will no doubt continue to do so in the future (thanks to titles like Sharp Objects), but with projects like DuVernay's latest, its biggest streaming competitor will be tossing its own hat in that ring.
Central Park Five is expected to premiere on Netflix in 2019.