The widely praised 2012 documentary, "The Central Park Five," from filmmaker Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns, chronicles the 1989 Central Park jogger case with skill and agility, recreating the ambient fear and violence in New York City during the 1980s, and using raw news footage to paint a thorough picture of the media frenzy and ultimate miscarriage of justice.

But Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix mini-series When They See Us, which dramatizes the events, does something different. It leads you straight into the eye of a visceral terror. It makes your skin hurt and your gut grieve.

In the beginning moments, there is a boldly auspicious shot: Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” blasts from an imaginary boombox in the night sky as black and brown boys flood an entrance into Central Park, where they parade their undiminished dignity down wide open paths lit only by lamp posts and the valor of their youth. The scene is a perfect artistic choice for Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young, who has worked with DuVernay on two feature films in the past (Selma and Middle of Nowhere) and whose visual genius is only one of many components that make When They See Us an unmitigated masterpiece.

As infamous as the case is, the actual story of the "Central Park Five" case is still a vicious kick to the chest and almost unbearable to believe. Thirty years ago, a white woman went for a nighttime jog in Central Park, where she was severely beaten, bound, and raped. (Almost two weeks later, she emerged from a coma with no memory of what had happened.) Within two days, a group of five black and brown boys ranging in age from 14 to 16, only two of whom knew each other, were targeted by the New York Police Department and subjected to hours of relentless interrogation and violent coercion until they all finally agreed to confess to a crime they did not commit.

During the interrogations, each were promised they could go home if they agreed to confess — and all they wanted, after hours alone without their parents or family, food or bathroom breaks, was to go home. They also believed, because they were children, in their own innocence. But despite no solid physical evidence, glaring inconsistencies in the taped confessions and because racism, Kevin Richardson, 15, Raymond Santana, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Korey Wise, 16, were all convicted and served sentences ranging from six to 13 years.

Wise was the only one tried as an adult and his conviction sent him to Rikers Island first, and then later to another maximum-security prison in New York State, while Richardson, Santana, McCray and Salaam were sent to a juvenile detention facility.

Twelve years after their 1990 sentences, convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed that he alone committed the assault and rape of the Central Park jogger, Trisha Meili. In fact, Reyes had committed another rape near Central Park days prior in 1989 — same exact M.O. as Meili’s rape — and yet, the police and city prosecutor Linda Fairstein failed to consider him a suspect. All five men were exonerated, but their lives had already been irreparably shattered.

So much of the series' poignancy comes through the specter of a rigorous and bone-deep collaborative effort by the entire cast and crew. DuVernay used her platform, and mighty directorial vision, to bring the project to light, but then she hired Young as cinematographer, put together a pitch-perfect soundtrack matched uncannily scene for scene — an 80s and 90s playlist for black and brown babies born in the late 60s and early 70s that includes Public Enemy, Mos Def and Jay-Z.

And then there’s the cast. I could say that there are award-worthy performances in this series, and that would be true, but it would also be entirely beside the point. When Aunjanue Ellis as Sharon Salaam responds to Trump’s call for the death penalty for her child, her baby — the composite rage and resistance and shock she feels is palpable, behind her eyes and inside her spirit. Asante Blackk’s young Kevin Richardson, an aspiring Trumpet player, shines with an incandescent naiveté, wherein you can almost see the joy of his youth, the dreams of his future slowly leave his body from scene to scene. Michael Kenneth Williams embodies the burdens of Bobby McCray, and all the Bobby McCrays before him.

Ultimately, though, the series is anchored by Jharrel Jerome, who made his film acting debut in Barry Jenkin’s 2016 Oscar-winning film "Moonlight." Jerome plays both the young and adult Wise — DuVernay cast two actors for the young and adult version of the four other boys — and through them brings to bear the crushing and ebullient depths of internalized injustice. Wise, who suffered near death beatings in prison and spent much of his time in solitary confinement in order to stay alive, is forced to adapt away the natural trajectory of his growth. Toward the end, in a scene that changes everything, Reyes tells Wise, “You have hope and faith, you held on to both.” But it wasn’t hope or faith, it was integrity. In the face of despair, Wise taught himself how to adhere to his own moral values.

DuVernay has said that she chose to call the series When They See Us because she wanted to invite the audience to reconsider what they see when they look at black and brown boys, who are so often immediately labeled as criminals, threats to society, and in the case of the Central Park Five, as a “wolf pack.” I interpreted the title a little differently. Not “when they see us, what do they see,” but when they see us they will finally see US — what happened to these boys is the story of America. We owe them our livelihood.

And that is because my black son is almost 14 years old, about the same age as these boys were. Because already I worry about the NYPD’s still inevitable and pervasive racial profiling. Because like Wise — who wasn’t even on the list of fabricated suspects on the night in question, but went down to the precinct anyway just to support his boy Salaam — my son is a good and loyal friend to his boys. Because every morning my son wakes up and starts talking with his dad about which pro-athletes are being traded or not, just like McCray and his dad did. Because when these five black and brown boys were on trial, a rich, white, entitled real estate mogul with bad hair paid $85,000 to take out full-page ads in four of the city’s most widely read papers that declared: “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE.” And now, thirty years later, that same rich, white, entitled guy is literally the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Because the mothers, the fathers, the sisters and brothers of these boys.

Because Kevin, Antron, Yusef, Raymond and Korey.

Rebecca Carroll is a cultural critic and Editor of Special Projects at WNYC, where she develops, produces and hosts a broad array of multi-platform content, including podcasts, live events and on-air broadcasts. Rebecca is also the author of several interview-based books about race and blackness in America, including the award-winning Sugar in the Raw, and her personal essays, cultural commentary and opinion pieces have been published widely. Her memoir, Surviving the White Gaze, is due out from Simon & Schuster in 2020.