In the series, Jerome portrayed Korey Wise, one of five black and Latino teens wrongfully convicted in 1989 of raping and assaulting a woman in Central Park -- a conviction overturned in 2002 only after the real assailant came forward. With the men now known as the Exonerated Five -- Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, and Korey Wise -- looking on from the audience, Jerome gave a quick, heartfelt speech holding back tears.
"The reason I'm here is because of actors like the people I was in the category with," he said, speaking of heavyweights in the category, including Jared Harris of Chernobyland True Detective'sMahershala Ali, who was on his feet clapping for Jerome. After thanking members of his family, including his mother ("Te quiero," he said, representing his Dominican heritage), and creator, co-writer and director Ava DuVernay, Jerome honored the Exonerated Five in his remarks. "Most importantly, this is for the men that we know as the Exonerated Five; it's for Raymond, Yusef, Antron, Kevin, and King Korey Wise."
When They See Us dramatized the mens' stories, showing how police coerced them into false confessions and how incarceration damaged their lives. As Wise, the oldest of the boys convicted, Jerome was the only actor in the ensemble to play both a teenaged and adult version of the same person, and he had a solo episode in solitary confinement that was one of the year's most riveting pieces of television.
Jerome's win was initially considered a lock, but Emmy experts began to consider that the Bronx native might lose to Jared Harris in Chernobylafter the HBO series won seven Creative Arts Emmys for artistic and technical achievement ahead of the Primetime Emmys. And while Jerome's win is a justifiable recognition of his stellar work in When They See Us, the award is even more significant considering the competition in the category, which also included Oscar winners Benicio del Toro, and Sam Rockwell.