Netflix is being sued for 'racist' When They See Us portrayal

Linda Fairstein, the disgraced ex-lawyer that fronted the case against the five teenagers, says the show wrongly portrays her as a 'clear and unmistakable villain'

Now They See Us cast and crew
(Image credit: Getty)

Linda Fairstein, the disgraced ex-lawyer that fronted the case against the five teenagers, says the show wrongly portrays her as a 'clear and unmistakable villain'

Netflix show When They See Us made headlines around the world last May when it was released, later going on to win Emmys for the portrayal. It told the true story of five African American teenagers who were falsely convicted of raping a woman in Central Park and the systematic wrongdoings that followed to ensure they were locked away.

Yet, this week, the four-part programme has had a lawsuit launched against it over claims that one of the portrayals of the characters is 'racist' and 'unethical'.

One of the main characters in the tale is Linda Fairstein, played by Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman. She is the legal prosecutor who fronted the conviction against the five teenagers. Back in 1989 at the time of the crime, she was the lawyer in charge of sex crimes for the NY state of Manhattan.

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After the Netflix series hit screens globally, the real Linda Fairstein says she lost jobs, was forced to step down from a number of prestigious positions and got dropped by her agent and publisher as a direct result of the criticism she got from the show.

Now, the lawyer is lodging a defamation claim against the world famous streaming service and the producer, Ava Duvernay, over how she was displayed in the docu-drama. She says she is portrayed as a 'racist, unethical villain' and that the Linda in the series is a 'deliberately calculated' character designed to be a 'clear and unmistakable villain to be targeted for hatred and vilification for what happened to The Five'.

When They See Us cast and crew

'Throughout the film series, Ms. Fairstein is portrayed as making statements that she never said, taking actions that she did not take — many of them racist and unethical, if not unlawful — in places that she never was on the days and times depicted', the suit says.

'On a number of occasions, Ms. Fairstein is portrayed using inflammatory language, referring to young men of color as ‘thugs,’ ‘animals’ and ‘bastards,’ that she never used.'

Responding directly to the lawsuit, representatives at Netflix say the lawsuit is 'frivolous' and 'without merit'. As the lawsuit has only just been filed, there hasn't been any ruling on whether her rebuttal of the portrayal is true.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.