Just a few months ago, the name Jharrel Jerome was practically unknown to most of us but last weekend, the 21- year-old graced the Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theatre stage to accept an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.
He beat the other nominees Mahershala Ali (True Detective), Benicio Del Toro (Escape at Dannemora), Hugh Grant (A Very English Scandal), Jared Harris (Chernobyl) and Sam Rockwell (Fosse/Verdon) to become the youngest ever winner in this category, I mean doesn’t that just scream ‘Black Excellence’?
The four-part Netflix mini-series ‘When they see us’, written and directed by Ava DuVernay tells the story of five black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted of raping Trisha Meili while she jogged in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. On that fateful day, these five boys lives were changed forever. The series explores the themes of race relations and the criminal justice system in America much like Duvernay’s other Netflix documentary‘ 13th Amendment’. What is different in ‘When they see us’ though is the vivid portrayal of the boys and their families anguish as a result of their wrongful convictions.
It begins with all five boys between the ages of 14-16 played by teen actors but then fast-forwards to their adult lives and replaced by adult actors. All, except Jerome who plays his character, Korey Wise as both as a teen and an adult. His performance as a young teenager navigating his way through adult prisons for over a decade was outstanding and truly deserving of the win. Jerome’s portrayal gave the viewer an insight into Korey’s life in ways no one could imagine. A portrayal that is too often not shown on our tv screens.
In one of the most emotional moments of the Emmy Awards night, Jharrel Jerome paid tribute to Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Korey Wise, whose painful story made his win possible. He went on to say;
“Thirty years ago they were sitting in a prison cell, falsely incarcerated, and today they’re in suits styled by designers for the Emmys.”
The fact that the series was nominated for 16 Emmys including best-limited series, best directing and best writing and only won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie does not detract from its importance. It remains a valuable work of art because it changed the narrative and the memory of their experience stays with everyone who has viewed it. We see them.