Following the Netflix miniseries' success, White House correspondent April Ryan asked the President of the United States on Tuesday if he would apologize to the five teenagers of color, who were wrongfully accused and convicted of raping a female jogger in New York City in the late '80s.
"Why do you bring that question up now? It’s an interesting time to bring it up," he replied, according to the New York Times. "You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein, and 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 the '80s, Trump spent $85,000 placing full-page ads in New York City's four daily papers, calling for the return of the death penalty. "Bring back the death penalty! Bring back our police!" read the ad, that was also featured in the show's trailer. "Muggers and murderers should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes," Trump wrote at the time, not naming the teenagers, but clearly alluding to their case.
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EXCLUSIVE: Ava Duvernay on Oscars: We Still Need More Inclusivity
In 2016, Trump controversially stood by his judgement of the teenagers, 14 years after DNA evidence and the confession of a serial rapist proved them innocent.
"They admitted they were guilty," he said in a statement to CNN in October 2016. "The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous."
When They See Usfollows Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, starting from the spring of 1989, when they were first questioned about the incident, until 25 years later, including their 2002 exoneration and their 2014 settlement with the city of New York. Last week, the streaming service announced that it had become the most-watched series on Netflix in the US every day since it premiered on May 31.
"I knew the story, I was aware of the story. These boys were teenagers in Harlem the same time I was a teenager in the West Coast, Compton area," DuVernay told ET's Kevin Frazier during the series' junket about her decision to share the story. "So there was some connection between just being in an urban environment and having to deal with police quite a bit. I had seen the documentary, so I sat down with Raymond Santana shortly thereafter, all of the other men and just began to love them, began to love their story, began to want people to really hear the stories they were telling me, and we started to make it."
"It makes me happy that they're finally being heard," she added. "When they were boys, we didn't even hear from them. We heard from words that were put into their mouths. They went through a whole trial. They never spoke, you know. They never were able to really get their point of view across."
"They endured all of this time behind bars, and so now they're able to speak, to be heard, to be seen through this," the Selma director stated.
ET also spoke with Wise at the New York premiere of When They See Us where he said that the project means "being reborn again, that's all. Life after death." "[The series] speaks for itself," he expressed.
As for Salaam, he told ET that "it was so painful" to watch the series. "We never knew the hell that each of, that everyone else had gone through. So not only is this an opportunity for folks to see us for the first time, but we got an opportunity to experience each other's lives vicariously through this film," he shared. "And let me tell you, it was such a painful journey to be able to paint a picture to the pain that each of us felt."