A year ago, Niecy Nash was nominated for an Emmy for her role in Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” a dramatization of the lives of the five wrongfully imprisoned Black and Latino men known as the “Central Park Five.” That the story continues to feel timely and relevant more than a year after the series’ release, and nearly two decades after the men were acquitted, comes as no surprise to Nash.
“We shine a light on things and you’re forced in a way to sit and pay attention,” Nash said at TheWrap’s virtual screening of her latest project, the Lifetime original movie “Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story.”
Although “When They See Us” wasn’t a new story, “we brought it to light in such a way that made people sit up and pay attention,” she said. “That was a year ago and look at where we are now. Art always informs, it inspires, it educates, and it does all of those things before it entertains.”
Like “When They See Us,” the story of “Stolen by My Mother” intersects with the criminal justice system, but the truth that’s revealed isn’t a systemic injustice, it’s the story of a woman — a mother — who makes a decision in a moment of desperation that haunts her and her family for the next 20 years.
The real Kamiyah Mobley was just eight hours old when she was stolen from the hospital by Gloria Williams (played by Nash in the movie) to be raised as her own. Raised as Alexis Manigo until she was 18 and finally reunited with her birth family, Mobley’s true identity was kept a family secret for years.
“There is a great charge when you’re playing someone who is still with us,” Nash said. “Making sure that I leaned into her mindset as much as I could — her heart-space as much as I could — was imperative.”
While she wasn’t able to meet with the real Williams prior to taking on the Role, Nash said she did extensive research to get into character, including reviewing court transcripts and video footage.
“Every character I approach, I try to find a thread between myself and them to make it real for me and my instrument. And what I would say I understood with regards to Gloria Williams was pain. The decisions that she made, she made from pain that was happening inside her,” she said. “I think we’ve all been at a place where we can look back on a thing that we’ve did, and say maybe that wasn’t the best decision, and maybe I did it because I was feeling this or that.”
But even though film as a medium has the ability to shine a light on the real world, what’s illuminated may not always be recognizable to everyone as the truth. Mobley’s birth family, for instance, has objected to the film and the portrayal of Kamiyah’s story.
“I absolutely understand their concerns because like I said every woman has a story. It doesn’t always end in glory but every woman has one,” Nash said, referencing the idea that all three of the women involved would tell the same story in a different way. “Each of them will give you this story through their prism, and rightfully so. You want to protect the version that you feel is the right one. … Anyone would feel that way.”