Netflix has responded to former New York prosecutor Linda Fairstein, who filed a defamation lawsuit against Netflix for the manner in which they depicted her in the award-winning Ava DuVernay directed series When They See Us.
“No less than a dry, abstract expression of opinion, the dramatized dialogue of which Plaintiff complains is protected speech,” Netflix’s attorneys argued on Monday in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. “And here, criticism of Plaintiff’s actions as a powerful public official is at the heart of what the First Amendment protects.”
In addition to Netflix, Fairstein also included DuVernay in her lawsuit, claiming that she was falsely portrayed by Felicity Huffman as a prosecutor who was motivated by her racism to convict the five young men known as the Central Park 5. She said her depiction negatively affected her career as a public speaker and legal consultant, including the film’s claims of her using racial slurs and other inflammatory language, which she claims never to have used. In the suit, she said she was also depicted as having called for a roundup of “every young black male who was in the park last night,” directing police officers to go to Harlem and “stop every little thug you see.” One scene in particular that struck a nerve with the former prosecutor was an interrogation scene where she is shown asking one of the detainees if he was out “wilding” with one of his friends, which was used to refer to the fear of roaming groups of violent teenagers at that time. Fairstein claims that not only did she never interrogate anyone in the case, but she was not familiar with what the term “wilding” even meant.
However, Netflix responded by quoting Fairstein publically referring to the attacks as “wilding” in a statement in 2003. She also refers to the suspects as “vicious marauders” in her 1993 non-fiction book.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
“Plaintiff’s own words alone bar any claim that this dialogue is less than substantially true,” Netflix’s attorneys responded.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The film streaming giant also noted that the mother of a 15-year-old detainee was told by Fairstein that she could not see her son until after the interrogation was over, another scene that is depicted in the series.
“A false statement is not actionable if it could have produced no worse an effect on the mind of the reader than the truth,” Netflix said.