According to a new report by Variety, the lawsuit which was filed by John E. Reid Associates last fall alleged that the series had falsely portrayed the “Reid Technique.” A ruling by Judge Manish S. Shah finalized that the depiction in the series was protected by the First Amendment.
When They See Us, DuVernay’s four-part series fictionalized the explosive Central Park Five incident that rattled New York City in 1989. Not only did the series shed light on the conviction of the five Latino and black teenagers who were accused of assaulting and raping a woman, it also told the story of their exoneration.
In a specific scene in the series, a fictionalized prosecutor confronts an NYPD detective on the basis of coercing a confession. “You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision,” the character alleges. “The Reid Technique has been universally rejected.”
John E. Reid Associates claimed that the project by DuVernay painted the technique in a false light and also incorrectly stated that the technique was “universally rejected.” Shah’s ruling found that the show “employed loose and hyperbolic rhetoric about the technique, protecting it from a defamation claim.”
In a statement made available to Variety, Shah wrote:
“‘Universally’ is hyperbolic and the prosecutor cannot be taken literally to assert that all intelligent life in the known universe has rejected the technique — which means his statement is an imprecise, overwrought exclamation. The statement was also made by a fictionalized character, during a fictionalized conversation… And while labeling something ‘fictitious’ will not insulate it from a defamation action… placing non-verifiable hyperbole in the mouth of a fictionalized character with an ax to grind provides a few layers of protection from civil damages for defamation.”
Last week, Linda Fairstein, a former prosecutor filed a defamation lawsuit against DuVernay and Netflix over her depiction in When They See Us. She alleges the series portrays her in a “false and defamatory manner.”
Netflix reportedly plans to vigorously defend DuVernay and the critically acclaimed series.
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