The Netflix-Fairstein Settlement Stunner

when they see us
If Netflix had lost to Fairstein, the result would have not only emboldened libel plaintiffs and driven up insurance costs, but also made Hollywood studios think twice before green-lighting projects in the lucrative biopic genre. Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix
Eriq Gardner
June 4, 2024

Last-minute legal settlements aren’t uncommon, but the details are sometimes baffling. Take the just-announced deal between Netflix, the producer of Ava DuVernay’s 2019 docudrama about the Central Park jogger case, and Linda Fairstein, who led the Manhattan D.A.’s Sex Crimes Unit at the time of the attack. Fairstein brought a libel suit over her portrayal by Felicity Huffman in When They See Us, which she claimed depicted her as a “racist, unethical villain.” The trial, which was set to begin June 10, would have been the first time a Hollywood studio defended a “based on true events” series before a jury. 

Alas, on the eve of trial—which would have started with jurors binge-watching the series together—the two sides have reached a détente. According to a joint statement, “Netflix will donate $1 million to the Innocence Project. Ms. Fairstein will not receive any money as part of this settlement.” A partial disclaimer stating that some events have been fictionalized for the purposes of dramatization has now been moved from the end credits to the beginning of the series. DuVernay went further, ripping Fairstein as a legal loser responsible for her own fate.