Emmy Award Winner Jharrel Jerome Has Always Given Credit to The Exonerated Five for ‘When They See Us’
People held their breath in anticipation as actress Angela Bassett opened the envelope to announce the winner of the Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Limited Series. The happy expression on Bassett’s face led many to believe that the winner would be Jharrel Jerome, who starred as Korey Wise in Netflix’s When They See Us. Many let out a sigh of relief, shed tears of joy and jumped in excitement when Jharrel’s name was called and he gave an inspirational speech of gratitude for his well-deserved win.
When They See Us sparked an important conversation around the world about race, privilege and the broken justice system. Though Jerome’s stellar performance attracted nationwide praise, the 21-year-old actor made it his mission to always turn the attention where it belonged – to the men the story was about: The Exonerated Five.
His acceptance speech was not the first time he used his platform to give honor to Wise and the other four exonerees for their struggles and triumphs. Jermone has made a conscious effort since the series was released to direct the worlds attention to The Exonerated Five.
Jharrel Jerome did not know much about the Central Park Five case before filming
Jerome was not yet born when the Central Park Five case dominated the media. Growing up in the Bronx not too far from where the young boys were arrested, his mother used the story as a cautionary tale to keep Jerome on the right path.
He spoke with Complex Magazine in June 2019 about how little he knew of the case before delving into the project:
“I didn’t know the case in depth, no. It wasn’t until Ava sort of brought it to my attention. I had seen her post a screenshot a ton of months before she even [began casting], where she posted an article of the Central Park Five and said that she was bringing it to light. That day I immediately went to Google and searched it, and I couldn’t get my eyes off the computer. I was watching the documentary. I was looking at the Wikipedia pages and all that and I was shocked, man. To think that this is home to me. This is where I’m from. At a whole different time, 30 years ago, where this was real, and how it happens today. It was bone chilling for me.”Complex Magazine
Jerome spent the next few months researching extensively prior to getting onto the set. He watched the original coerced confession tapes of all five men, read through court transcripts and anything else that he could get his hands on to try and understand the terrors the five men experienced. Jerome acknowledges that without doing research, he would not have been able to perform at such a high standard for the film.
Jharrel Jerome on meeting, working with and portraying Korey Wise
Jerome spent a lot of time with Wise. He met Wise before filming started and he also spent time with Wise on set, almost daily. Off-camera, they formed a close bond, which Jerome says will forever stand.
In an interview with the LA Times, Jerome spoke on how despite not having much information or data on Wise as a teenager due to his incarceration at such a young age, paying attention to Wise’s mannerisms and hobbies helped when transforming into the character. He says:
“It’s hard to find out who he was. There’s no footage of Korey before he was incarcerated. If you see him at 16, it’s only behind a desk being interrogated. Was he fun? Smooth? Quiet? I knew how to play the older Korey. Meeting him I could see the pain he went through — and that some of young Korey still lives inside of him. He’s so full of life, exuberant, loving. He’ll come up to you and just give you a hug. If he’s like that today, I can’t even imagine what he was like before the system tried to strip it off him.”LA Times
Jerome has always credited Wise’s inviting spirit as the inspiration behind his phenomenal portrayal. “The first time I met Korey, he took off the chain around his neck and put it on my neck,” Jerome recalled in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “He said to me, ‘You’re the king now. You’re Korey Wise.'”
Jharrel Jerome dedicates Emmy award to The Exonerated Five
The audience gave a standing ovation and clapped as Jerome ascended onto the stage to grab his Emmy award. Fellow actors, producers, and industry insiders were all present for his win; but the most important people in the audience were The Exonerated Five.
Jerome started by thanking his family, peers, and director, Ava DuVernay, for believing in him to play the role. He did not forget to pay tribute to the five men who made the film possible, saying:
“Most importantly, this is for the men that we know as The Exonerated Five. For Raymond, Yusef, Antron, Kevin and King Korey Wise! Thank you so much! It’s an honor, it’s a blessing.”YouTube
Korey Wise smiled with pride and cried as Jerome spoke. All men raised their fists in the air as a symbol of power, solidifying their bond even more.