Jharrel Jerome: The Emmy-Winning Portrayal of Korey Wise in “When They See Us”

The announcement that Jharrel Jerome was the winner as “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie” came as no surprise to anyone who watched Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” on Netflix, the story of the “Central Park 5” aka “Exonerated 5”. If you saw the moving depiction of the five teens falsely accused, convicted, imprisoned, acquitted and finally freed for sexual assault of a Central Park jogger, you rode the same emotional rollercoaster as I did. Many of us knew the general story, but a very small few, outside of the accused, knew what happened the night of the event, the trial, their experiences in detention/jail/prison and their lives after exoneration and release.

It was my original intention to post Jerome’s Top 10 acting scenes, but after looking closely at his overall output, any such attempt would be cheating him and you, the reader. Let’s face it, he gave one of the greatest individual performances that I’ve seen in a very long time. So I decided to key in on specific moments of impact (credit to DuVernay’s excellent direction and superb cinematography), enhanced by his excellent acting. Sound fair?

I’m posting the scenes in chronological order, to maintain a sense of flow and to avoid prioritizing the list by importance, while helping you understand Korey Wise’s journey. We can agree that each of the CP5/E5 has their own story to tell, but Wise’s is unique in that he was NOT on the list for questioning and was the only member convicted and imprisoned as an adult.

Due to the amount of video footage (Gifs), loading time will be a little longer, depending on your mode of accessing this post and your data coverage. I apologize in advance, but hope that in the end you will feel that it was worth the wait.

Let’s begin (the majority of images are Gifs as opposed to photos to help you appreciate the magnitude of the moment(s) and the skill in which he performs his scenes):

Helping A Friend – Interrogation

Innocence considered, Korey’s only crime was agreeing to accompany his friend Yussef to the police station. My friend put it best, saying he was “desperate to do the right thing” (thanks, Siima). You can see his initial hesitance in agreeing to go, which is replaced by his loyalty. This sadly backfires when he is attacked by an interrogating law enforcement officer, almost immediately upon entering the station. Terrified and confused about the sudden change in circumstances, he is easily deceived by the “good cop, bad cop” method and quickly finds himself in a seemingly unwinnable situation. His fear is heightened by the thought that he is only present for moral support.

A Life-Changing Decision

Realizing that his release is now contingent upon a statement against others he’s never met, Wise is coerced to submit a doctored testimony/confession that includes an admission of guilt that he is told and believes will not incriminate him.

The look of fear and trust on his young and innocent face is both disturbing and utterly heartbreaking.

Wise speaks convincingly, exhales, stands and attempts to leave, assuming the worst is over, only to be told to sit back down. He then finds himself placed in holding with adults for reasons he has yet to understand.

The Trial

Wise testifies and explains that his testimony was false and submitted under duress. When confronted with his signed statement, he is forced to shamefully admit that he is unable to read and confirm the content of the document due to his poor literacy skills.

Guilty Verdict

In a sudden state of shock, disbelief and betrayed rage, Wise rushes the prosecution team exclaiming “You lied to me!”

Prison Introduction

Wise’s first moments in prison include the startling discovery of a rat crawling across his cell bed, reminding that he is no longer in the safety of his own home and element.

(Convicted as an adult) Korey sits innocently amidst inmates in the cafeteria. He soon discovers the violent nature of the prison environment when a fight ensues for minor reasons. In his fear, he finds his way to a nearby wall while witnessing the melee.

Growing Pains – A Decision To Make

Early in his stay, Korey is locked in the recreation room with two inmates by a crooked Corrections Officer (CO). His pleas of “I don’t want no problems! You don’t have to hurt me…” go ignored as he is beaten and apparently raped.

Later, while receiving medical treatment in the infirmary, he expresses his disbelief at the “unwritten codes” of the prison system and asks if talking to the warden will help. The prison nurse discourages him from doing so, implying that it would lead to him needing more than just her medical treatment.

Upon leaving, he is forced to make a personal decision to do whatever it takes to survive.

After being transferred to a different prison, Korey receives news from the prison chaplain of the passing of his sister, Denise. Acting out in anger and pain, he struggles against the embracing arms of the firm, yet sympathetic CO Roberts.

Another strong scene that tears at your heart, yet gives you hope, knowing there is someone in the prison system that visibly cares for him.

Fighting For Survival

From prison to prison, Korey learns that as a convicted rapist, he is a target for many victim-sympathizing inmates, particularly the Aryan Brotherhood who particularly dislikes that the victim was a white woman.

His plight is compounded by the fact that some COs (not including the helpful CO from his first prison) are not impressed by his “celebrity status” as a member of the notorious “Central Park 5”.

Alone In The World

Korey pleads with his mother to visit him more, despite that fact that traveling to a further distance is difficult for her.

What If?

Korey reviews the decision that altered his destiny and ponders life, had he chosen to remain with his girlfriend instead of joining Yussef in their excursion to Central Park.

For a few moments, his dream of a life of freedom and companionship bring him a semblance of peace during his time in self-imposed isolation.


Korey’s mother contacts him to inform him that the real perpetrator has confessed to the crimes and that he and the other members of the CP5 have been exonerated.

Freedom and Starting Over

Korey shares the joy and relief of freedom with the other members of the CP5, whom he has not seen or heard from since imprisonment.

In the final moments, Korey walks the streets of his old neighborhood, knowing that despite his lost years, he can experience a future of which, he can control. He finds his way to a restaurant to enjoy one of the things he cherished most as a teenager with his then girlfriend, eating out…

“When They See Us”

Job well done, Jharrel. Also, beautiful gesture, acknowledging and dedicating your award to the real CP5/E5 during your acceptance speech. Your selflessness, humility, energy and talent will find you back on this stage again, soon! And we’ll be watching…
Jharrel Jerome celebrates the victory with his real-life counterpart, Korey Wise!

For a more detailed breakdown of my comments about this series and his performance, click here to read my earlier post, “When They See Us (Pt. 2 of 2): Now That You’ve Seen It”.

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