when they see us
The dedication that went into preparing for Jharrel Jerome's roles in "When They See Us" is nothing short of award-worthy. (Illustration by Francesca Mahaney, University of Georgia)

Words for the Television Academy Regarding ‘When They See Us’

Jharrel Jerome deserves to be recognized for his performance in the original Netflix series.

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when they see us

Jharrel Jerome deserves to be recognized for his performance in the original Netflix series.

When Dominican American actor Jharrel Jerome found out that Ava DuVernay was casting for “When They See Us,” the “Moonlight” star immediately jumped at the chance to submit an audition tape. Initially, Jerome was not concerned with landing a lead role.

“(A)ll I knew was I wanted to be a part of it, however it was – if I had to be a friend, if I had to be the man that did it, I wanted to be a part of this story,” Jerome told Variety magazine.

According to Jerome’s interview, months went by before the casting team asked Jerome to audition in person for the role of “Young Korey,” under the condition that he shave his facial hair for a more youthful appearance. After finishing another film project before DuVernay’s casting call, the determined entertainer did not hesitate to go to New York to audition for “When They See Us” in person. Surprisingly, after watching Jerome audition for “Young Korey,” DuVernay asked him to read a script for “Older Korey.”

Initially prepared to audition for the teenage role of Korey Wise, Jerome “found some beats with the knowledge of who Korey was” and auditioned for the new role. Oddly enough, DuVernay was not only impressed with Jerome’s acting range but also with his ability to appear as a grown man with facial hair and as a teenager without. Soon after, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker informed Jerome that she would like the actor to portray the role of Korey in both spans of Wise’s life — a 16-year-old who was wrongfully convicted as well as the man in his mid-20s maintaining his innocence while incarcerated.

The critically-acclaimed director saw the potential in Jerome, and it is essential that the new star gets the proper recognition. With Emmy nomination announcements fast approaching, many believe that it will be downright outrageous if Jerome is not nominated for “Outstanding Male Lead Role in a Limited Series,” and here is why.

First off, for those who are not aware, Netflix’s “When They See Us” has been the most watched series on Netflix since its release on May 31. DuVernay’s limited drama series reveals one of the most heinous acts of the U.S. criminal justice system — when five black and Latino boys were falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of raping and nearly killing a white woman named Trish Meili on the night of April 19, 1989. The five boys — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise — were only 14, 15 and 16-years-old; they are known as the “Central Park Five,” or the CP5.

The entire cast should be applauded for executing the true story of how each of the CP5 were painfully affected by being accused, tried and sentenced for a crime they did not commit. However, one particular cast member’s performance stands out from the rest. With Emmy nominations airing July 16, Jerome should not go unrecognized for his exceptional performance in “When They See Us.”

The Bronx native plays the role of Korey Wise, one of the CP5 who was given the longest prison sentence of 15 years. The last episode of “When They See Us” is dedicated to Wise’s “brutal journey through the adult prison system,” in which Jerome succeeded in portraying the innocent man’s story.

Now that everyone is all caught up, let’s explain how Jerome’s dedication to the role of Korey Wise should be an award in itself. To prepare for the role, Jerome studied the 2012 Ken Burns documentary “Central Park Five.”

According to the “Los Angeles Times”, Jerome consumed much of his time watching Wise’s two-hour-long confession tape to master his vocals and mannerisms. According to the interview with Variety, Jerome never asked Wise about his experiences in prison to prepare for “When They See Us.” Impressively, he learned of Wise’s experience simply by bonding and having brotherly conversations on and off the set.

Jerome’s admirable work ethic did not stop there. Being that Jerome had to act for both the teenage and adult phases of Wise’s life, the young actor had to work much harder than his other co-stars. For instance, once Jerome finished filming as 16-year-old Korey Wise, he had 3 1/2 weeks to transform into a man who looked like he had been living in solitary confinement for several years. Jerome claims that the task was very challenging. It took more than simply growing back the facial hair to portray Korey Wise in his mid-to-late 20s.The five boys — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise — were only 14, 15 and 16-years-old when they were deemed guilty for raping and nearly killing a white, 20-something investment banker named Trish Meili.

In the interview with Variety, Jerome says “I gained eight pounds of muscle and my shoulders got broader. I definitely did a lot of pushups before shooting. I was doing six days a week, twice a day. I was eating 3,500 calories a day.” The necessary calorie consumption for the average 21-year-old is 2,400 cal.

Also, Jerome mentions in the interview that he is not the kind of guy who exercises often and expresses his love for fast food. This large shift in the actor’s lifestyle is an indication of Jerome’s drive to deliver profound entertainment for television. That’s what the Emmys are all about. The academy would be crazy to ignore the excellence.

However, if Jerome’s statement isn’t enough to convince the academy that he deserves to be awarded with “Outstanding Male Lead in a Limited Drama Series” and more, then the responses he received from his more experienced co-stars should seal the deal. The Bronx native was so passionate in his work that it triggered an emotional response in the Emmy-nominated actor Michael K. Williams. The Screen Actors Guild award-winning actor expressed how the fresh talent was brilliant enough to spark real emotions during the table reading.

According to the LA Times, Williams says, “I didn’t want to cry at the table read. … I took my baseball cap, pulled it down, and said it’s going to be that kind of ride. At the table read, he wore me out.” DuVernay also spoke highly of Jerome when she spoke to the LA Times. “The care that he gave to the parts that were more quiet, the moments that another actor might have glossed over. He knew the little stuff is big stuff.”

If Jerome was able to evoke emotion in adept entertainers such as DuVernay and Williams, it shouldn’t be difficult for the experts of the academy to notice the same potential that the young star shows in “When They See Us.” Let’s face it, talent is undeniable. While demonstrating his mastery in projects such as “Moonlight” and “Mr.Mercedes,” Jharrel Jerome is the definitely the one to watch.

It is imperative that the academy understands the beauty and impressiveness in Jerome’s skills, being that he is a brand new actor who has barely scratched the surface of his abilities. With his acting range, there is no choice but to give credit where it is rightfully due.

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