Whether you call it serendipitous, poetic justice, or a case of life imitating art, Felicity Huffman's role on When They See Us, where she plays Linda Fairstein, is just plain ironic. At least, that's what the internet is trying to tell me. The Ava DuVernay-directed miniseries, which was released on Netflix on May 31, exposed the injustices within the U.S. criminal justice system during the Central Park Five case. In When They See Us, Huffman portrays Fairstein, the lead prosecutor in the case that wrongfully put five black and brown teenage boys in prison. And given Huffman's involvement in the college admission scandal earlier this year, fans of the Netflix series were quick to point out the parallels.
In Apr. 2019, CNN reported that the Desperate Housewives star plead guilty in the college bribery scheme, along with 13 other parents. According to the publication, Huffman admitted to paying $15,000 to cheat for her daughter on the SATs. In an official statement, Huffman said:
I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions. I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.
In May, Deadline also revealed that Huffman might serve around four months of jail time.
Although When They See Us dramatizes the events of the Central Park jogger case and Huffman's character was a clear villain, it would be impossible to ignore Fairstein's involvement since she led the prosecution as the head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
According to Newsweek, Fairstein was reportedly involved with securing the coerced confessions of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. After 13 years, the Central Park Five were exonerated when Matias Reyes admitted to the attack and matched DNA from the original crime scene. The five men then sued New York City for $41 million in 2014.
Nonetheless, Newsweek revealed that Fairstein "refused to apologize for her actions and still maintains that the five men are guilty." Per the publication, Fairstein continues to maintain her stance years later. In the New York Law Journal, Fairstain said, "The questioning [of the Central Park Five] was respectful, dignified, carried out according to the letter of the law and with sensitivity to the young age of the men."
Since the Central Park jogger case, Fairstein has become a successful mystery writer. However, her name was brought up once again in 2017 when she was accused of covering up Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct.
In an interview with NPR, the two reporters who broke the New York Times piece, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, revealed, "There were high-profile attorneys who stepped up to Harvey's side, including Linda Fairstein, the former sex crimes prosecutor here in Manhattan, who was willing to facilitate introductions to the current sex crimes prosecutor who was handling the case. And within weeks that case was dead."
Now, with Huffman's real-life and onscreen involvement with the law, fans are calling out the irony.
"I understand it was completely unintentional, but having Felicity Huffman play Linda Fairstein in #WhenTheySeeUS is pure cinematic karma," one fan wrote on Twitter.
"Wild how Felicity Huffman just pled guilty to college admissions crimes and played Linda F*ckstein with so much integrity lol," another fan wrote.
Whether or not you believe in the "cinematic karma" of Huffman's portrayal of Fairstein in When They See Us, you can't ignore the powerful story the Netflix miniseries is trying to tell. In an interview with USA Today, DuVernay explained that the broken and "inherently unjust" American criminal justice system is one fight we still have to face today.
"It's important that we know all of the levers that are pulled, all the profit that is being made, all of the political gain that is at the heart of locking millions of people away behind bars," DuVernay said. "If there's anything I want people to know, it's that yes, race and class are at the core of a lot of it, but it's political. It's profit-based. And it's something that can be changed if enough of us wake up and understand how we're pawns in it, how our tax dollars are being used, and decide that we want to do something about it."
When They See Us is now streaming on Netflix.