Article by: Hlogi Sepota
The Prime Time Emmy Awards strive to celebrate the most outstanding television programs and performances that kept us glued to our screens in 2019 and over the past weekend, the 71st edition of this award ceremony honoured a collective of the world’s highest revered actors, writers and directors. Standing out from the many awards of the night was Jharrel Jerome’s win for his excellent performance as Korey Wise in Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’. The 21-year-old is reportedly the youngest actor to receive an Emmy award for Best Actor in a limited series and it’s no surprise as his performance on the series was nothing short of amazing.
When They See Us is based on a true story surrounding the Central Park Five (now known as the Exonerated Five) Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, who were wrongfully accused and convicted in 1989 for raping a young white woman. The series follows the story of how these men were wrongfully convicted as teenagers and with an intimate focus on their lives before and after prison as well as a centralised look at how their families dealt with that trauma.
Jerome starred as Korey Wise and throughout the series, he provided the audience with chilling performances that made us feel empathy for his character and an overall frustration and dissatisfaction at the justice system – which failed to protect these young men. Jerome’s contribution to the series was marvelous at best and it was highly arresting due to his commitment of telling the story as authentically as possible to the point where one forgot that this was an artistic simulation of life – no emotion was spared and the rejection of a veneered representation was surely the deciding factor that saw him taking his first Emmy award where he honoured the Exonerated Five in his acceptance speech.
It’s very rare to find actors who strip themselves off in pursuit of a role and when that journey is fulfilled, it produces masterful performances, as was the case with Jharrel Jerome. His win is a testament and an ode to authenticity in storytelling for the story of the Exonerated Five was tough, but it had to take an actor like him to skillfully unpack those experiences and share them with us as if we were there.