The Central Park Five
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This new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. The film chronicles the Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of these five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice. This DVD features subtitles in English (SDH).
We know going in that the five young men featured in The Central Park Five were ultimately exonerated of the crime for which they were imprisoned--indeed, the documentary begins with the real perpetrator's confession. But that's cold comfort to them, along with anyone else outraged by the miscarriage of justice detailed in this powerful film by Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah, and her husband, David McMahon. In April 1989, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, was raped and savagely beaten while jogging in the park. The shocking crime came in a city already known, as one interviewee describes it, as "the capital of racial violence," and media, politicians, cops, ordinary citizens, and everyone else demanded that whoever was responsible be brought to justice immediately, if not sooner. And although there were dozens of other black and Latino youths "wilding" (i.e., threatening and/or attacking others) in the park that night, only teenagers Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, all of whom were interviewed for this film, were ultimately arrested and convicted, based on confessions to the police who interrogated them. All five went to jail, serving between 6 and 13 years while the district attorney's office congratulated itself on a job well done. But the confessions, portions of which we see in file footage, were bogus. If not actually coerced, they were certainly the products of five scared, confused, suggestible youths willing to say almost anything simply so they could go home. What's more, the confessions were the DA's only evidence; indeed, the DNA evidence didn't implicate any of the boys, and they were exonerated when a serial rapist named Matias Reyes confessed to the crime in 2002. So what went wrong? Aside from the Five and their family members, reporters, lawyers (excluding the prosecutors), and former New York mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins point to a number of reasons: the "social moat" that divided the haves and have-nots, public pressure, sensational headlines in all the papers, cops more interested in making their "evidence" fit their theory of the crime instead of the other way around… and, inevitably, racism. In classic Burns style, the filmmakers combine interviews, film, photos, and some very effective music to create a document of shame that packs a genuine wallop. --Sam Graham
Behind the Scenes
A New York Wilding
Making The Film - A more in-depth piece
The Family Business - How do you make a film with three directors who are all related?
Subpoena - NYC strikes back
This DVD features subtitles in English (SDH).
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The irony of the whole story is that it wasn't some great effort by some legendary journalist that brought the truth out... IT WAS THE PERSISTENCE OF THE ACTUAL RAPIST/MURDERER that brought the truth to light!!! Shame!!! If anyone if familiar with the "How to make a murderer" saga.... this is Exactly that!! Intimidation coercion and Conspiracy by the police on helpless Innocent law abiding citizens!!! Its bigger than racism... Its a disgrace!!
As black people we are taught at a very young age to Never trust the police. These kids and their parents, journalists, and the general public were all duped by the police Dept.!! They all learned a very expensive lesson!! But the powers that be were all complicit in this crime. Even some journalists. You cant tell me that no one questioned the confession of a 14 year old?? Im still shaking my head. This film... however great... has really Disturbed me!!!
The film was produced by Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah, and her husband David McMahon, and bears the hallmarks of a Burns production: excellent research, primary sources, media clips, interviews with the now exonerated men who have yet to put their lives back together, and excerpts of the forced confessions. The film is wonderful and leaves you wondering about justice in this country, and the book expands on sections that couldn't be included in the film.
I used the film in a course on media and conflict to examine how race is presented in the media and how media coverage can contribute to racial conflict. I lived in New York at the time, and everything that is shown in the film is what I remember. A bit more attention to how the minority press covered the story would have been helpful, but that topic became part of the assignments.
You need not be teaching a course to see just how good this film is and how important it is for everyone to see. The wrongly-convicted men sued the state for compensation to which they are entitled. Ten years after filing the suit, the state had not begun negotiations, and it was only after the film was released that they began to get calls about settlements.