New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to close Rikers Island, but the prison, a target for critics of mass incarceration, continues to loom large in popular culture. Here are some examples of how the iconic jail complex has been portrayed in film and television through the years.
“The Night Of”
The HBO crime drama starring Riz Ahmed was partially set in the New York jail. Ahmed’s character, Nasir “Naz” Khan is a Pakistani American who gets arrested for a murder he’s pretty sure he didn’t commit and is sent to Rikers as a result. Over the course of the eight-episode series, the prison, and the criminal justice system at large, turn the innocent college student into a hardened criminal.
In Season 2 of Netflix’s first Marvel series, Vincent D’Onofrio’s character Wilson Fisk is sent to the fictional Ryker’s Island prison, a thinly veiled reference to the real-life jail from the Marvel Comics universe. Later in the season, he’s joined by Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle, a.k.a. “The Punisher.”
“Mozart in the Jungle”
In a much-buzzed about Season 3 episode of Amazon’s Golden Globe-winning “Mozart in the Jungle,” the New York Symphony traveled to Rikers to perform Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” for the inmates. Filmed at the actual prison with real musicians performing live, the moment was a pet project for series co-creator and executive producer Roman Coppola.
“TIME: The Kalief Browder Story”
Executive produced by Jay Z, Spike’s six-part docuseries told the story of Kalief Browder, the 16-year-old Bronx high school student who spent three years in Rikers — much of it in solitary confinement — without ever having been convicted of a crime. Two years after his release in 2013, Browder committed suicide, leading Barack Obama to sign an executive order banning solitary confinement for juveniles.
“Law & Order”
Being set in New York City, Dick Wolf’s long-running “Law & Order” franchise often sends its criminals to Rikers Island for their various crimes. Though it is more often referenced than seen, Rikers Island is occasionally depicted when detectives and lawyers visit the prison to question inmates.
“Lock-Up: The Prisoners of Rikers Island”
Nina Rosenblum and Jon Alpert’s 1994 HBO documentary “Lock-Up,” is a tour of the facility’s various complexes, featuring Rikers Island inmates describing their crimes, their lives, and their experience living in one of the most infamous prisons in the country.
A documentary from filmmaker and journalist Bill Moyers, “Rikers” uses direct-to-camera interviews with inmates to depict life in on Rikers Island. Following its premiere at the DOC NYC film festival in 2016, the film will premiere on PBS in May.