In America, 1989, five young black and Hispanic teenagers were convicted of a violent assault and rape crime they did not commit. They became known as the Central Park Five.
In May 2019, Netflix released a miniseries called When they see us which tells the story of these five men’s individual journey from interrogation, prosecution, the impacts in and after prison, to finally, their exoneration.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Oprah asks the director, Ava DuVernay, about the title of this miniseries. “You insisted [the working title: ‘The Central Park Five’] be changed. Why?”
In response, DuVernay says, “‘Central Park Five’ was something that was put upon the real men by the press, by the prosecutors, by the police… It took away their faces, it took away their families, it took away their pulses and their beating hearts. It dehumanised them. They’re Yusef, Antron, Kevin, Raymond, and Korey. Those are their names and we need to know them.”
To see someone for who they are
How many times have you hurt someone, lied to and manipulated them, or cursed them in your mind, without realising that they are a human being created in the image of God?
In Genesis chapter 1 verse 27, God clearly proclaimed the sanctity of all people: “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
But sin has a way of warping our values and seeing others less than who they really are. That ‘helps us’ do the job we want done. Like the stories of Yusef, Antron, Kevin, Raymond, and Korey. The press, the prosecutors and police needed someone to account for the crime against Trisha Meili, the woman was attacked in Central Park. They saw those five men as ‘animals’ – not even worthy of a life.
“It took away their faces, it took away families, it took away their pulses and their beating hearts.”
Abuse, mistreatment and cruelty to other fellow human beings happen when someone decides to see another as ‘an animal’ or just another object. It happens when we see someone less than being created in the image of God.
Being dehumanised and dehumanising others
I’ve had plenty of experiences being treated less than being created in the image of God. I remember being made fun of for being Asian. Kids, and even ignorant adults, made fun of Asian accents and stereotyped our physical features.
I’ve been talked over, dismissed of my opinions and socially excluded for not fitting in to the unstated culture of the group.
But I’m also guilty of dehumanising others too. When I get angry and start raging at others (usually family members!) to have my way; when my competitiveness kicks up a notch, striving to become better but also tainted with jealousy and pride to beat my nemesis; or when I subtly manipulate others to get admiration or ensure things are done my way. People become ‘objects’ for my own desires and plans for a future that benefits me.
When the Trinity said, ‘Let’s make humankind in our own image’, his desire was to create a unique specie who reflect the relationship that God has in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is mutual love and submission in the Trinity. The Father doesn’t try to control the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son doesn’t seek to usurp the place of the Father and outshine the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t ignore the will of the Father and Son.
In other words, the Trinity loves, respects and mutually submits to one another, creating perfect harmony and community.
Called to restore people’s place in society
When we’ve been dehumanised and mistreated, it’s easy to fall into the same sin and hurt those who are less powerful than you are. Your boss makes you feel worthless at work so you make your children feel worthless at home. This toxic cycle of powerplay only creates more distrust, guilt and hate.
Jesus came into the world to break this evil.
On the cross Jesus took on all the sins of the world and the Father condemned him, turning his face away from him. On that day, Jesus was dehumanised for our sake. He took our sins so that we can be restored in God’s family again and that we can proudly bear the image of God once again without the taint of sin.
Jesus came to restore our humanity, and he’s calling us to continue the work that he’s started. He calls us to reach out a hand to those who need human touch. He calls us to show mercy and compassion to those who are vulnerable. And he calls us to heal and restore the names, faces, pulses and families that are torn away by those who abuse their power.
Ava DuVernay was able, through the creative gifts and talents that God has given her, to create a miniseries that shares the story of five young men whose lives have been taken away from them. Netflix has given her a platform to broadcast this series to the whole world. She played her part in trying to bring some healing and restoration to the trauma and suffering these men had to go through.
Where are you called to play your part in healing and restoration today?
Rachel is the children and youth pastor at Northern Life Baptist Church in Sydney. She loves volleyball, reading and a good TV drama! She has recently finished studying a Master of Divinity at Morling College and she’s continuing further studies towards another Masters. You can also find Rachel’s previous article here: https://christiantoday.com.au/news/lessons-from-a-mission-trip-in-japan.html
Rachel is a pastor, preacher and writer. Based in Sydney, she’s a fan of literature, sport and the arts. Check out her website rachellhli.wordpress.com