For Netflix’s ‘When They See Us,’ Branded Content Becomes a Powerful Educational Tool

The Atlantic’s creative marketing group led project

The Atlantic's Re:think partnered with Netflix on this branded content project
The Atlantic / Re:think

On May 31, Netflix released Ava DuVernay’s long-awaited miniseries When They See Us, a 4-part dramatic look into the wrongful imprisonment of Raymond Santana Jr., Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Antron McCray, and Kevin Richardson—otherwise known as the Central Park Five. For the bulk of the weekend, the conversation has largely centered on the elements of the infamous case that still plague communities of color today at a disproportionate rate, such as false arrests and mistaken identity.

To date, the 30-year-old case of the Central Park Five remains one of the most relevant examples of systemic inequality within the criminal justice system, long after the men were exonerated. The aspect of this ordeal that is likely the most integral (and highly stomach-churning) was the interrogation—a process rife with gaslighting, baiting, and outright lies—as it shows just how coercion can become the most dangerous weapon when paired with skewed power dynamics.

Created in partnership with Netflix, The Atlantic’s creative marketing group Re:think released an interactive multimedia campaign titled “Coerced,” detailing the interrogation and how similar police tactics often lead to false confessions, especially from marginalized prisoners.

The experience, which is divided into five parts, includes insight from journalists and experts like Dr. Courtney Cogburn, Jelani Cobb, Rembert Browne as well as a chilling, moment by moment timeline supplied with audio accounts from Salaam, Santana Jr., Wise, McCray, and Richardson. With each detail, the campaign illustrates the inherent biases in a system that is supposed to protect every citizen but is hyperfocused on punishing a very distinct group of people.

“The Central Park Five case helped demonstrate that in American police culture, presumption of guilt often overrides the pursuit of the truth,” the campaign notes.

That bias is further stoked by outside factors such as media and policymakers within all levels of government, fostering an environment that makes it almost impossible for people of color to survive a system that is stacked against us at every turn.

“Coerced” includes several resources that draw attention to the need for police reform, encouraging readers to speak up and take action against racial profiling. It’s a vital component of a very difficult topic, because the truth is, without the rallying cry from those who oppose such overtly biased power tactics, the Central Park Five could easily become an unchallenged blueprint for further disparity.

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