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You must try your very best to see The Central Park Five. I left it 5
hours ago and I'm still on fire. I have no right words. It might be the
best documentary I've ever seen. Or let me put it like this: I've never
watched a film that better justified making films in the first place. I
just felt like I witnessed 119 minutes of truth-telling that was
handled exquisitely from a narrative and visual storytelling
I almost didn't go. I was tired and I was thinking, you know, I have 3 hours here (my husband was watching our young son) do I really want to spend it focused on tragedy? I am so deeply happy I went. Maysles Cinema screened it at the Dempsey auditorium in Harlem. It was packed to the rafters. Throughout the screening, you never heard a rustle. You never heard a cough. You never saw the light of someone texting. Total, utter rapt attention. And then, we had the Q&A with four of the men. Four full human beings who had so much taken away from them. They filled the stage with their powerful, radiant presence. Sara Burns and David McMahon were there, too, as was Albert Maysles himself. An incredible experience.
Sarah Burns (Ken Burns' daughter) and her husband, David McMahon along with Ken Burns have managed to create a documentary SO fantastic, SO incredibly moving, SO impassioned, and SO painful to those of us who want to believe in the goodness of man, that I implore you to see it! And once you have, I hope you will learn more about the continued stonewalling by the New York City Justice System to give these 5 fine gentlemen (and I don't use the word "gentlemen" lightly) the justice and apology they so deserve... and follow up with a letter writing campaign. Here's the information you will need: http://wbls.com/A-Call-for-Justice-Central-Park-Jogger-5/14823124 (I have no connection with this website, I'm just someone who was lucky enough to see this documentary at a local theater and wants to do SOMETHING to help!) And to the 5 men: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Kharey Wise... you are what we should all aspire to... loving, honest, and with a strength of character and strong moral compass that was (and sadly still is) so sadly missing in all those who did you wrong.
Korey,Ray Santana (and Ray's father) and the other Five are the stars of this documentary really. Their humanity and suffering is etched in their faces. The story of five innocent boys (14-16) railroaded into confessing to a crime they didn't commit by police and prosecutors that just wanted feathers in their cap must touch the heart of any parent of a teenage boy. That they are ever exonerated comes as a miracle--and has nothing to do with the justice system. Ray's father says it is literally the hand of God, and honestly, this is one of those things that makes you wonder! The best thing about the movie is the men themselves. The trouble is that for Mr. Burns it is all about the racial fault line between black and white. Does he think we don't have any dividing lines up here in NH? Has he noticed the trailer parks hidden behind pine trees? All white people, definitely divided. I lived in NYC in 1990, and there was another headline blaring then about a white mob killing an innocent black man. The prosecutors in that case were also falling all over themselves making political hay. A person reading the headlines in both cases (Bensonhurst and Central Park 5) would have their blood boiling within 3 seconds. Meanwhile, more and more people in NYC spoke Spanish, Hindi, Chinese. We actually all took the subways together and were often courteous to one another, trapped like sardines, while holding our tabloids which screamed headlines that suggested, "stick to your own kind." It was less and less about black and white, but the tabloids never got that, and Mr. Burns doesn't either. He's sort of a reverse tabloid. But Korey and Ray and Antron and Kevin and Yussef are extraordinary people, and I thank Mr. Burns and his daughter Sara for permitting us to know their story. And this is more complicated than anything Mr. Burns has made before, so everyone should see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the great Ken Burns tradition, The Central Park Five is a
documentary full of detail and a story seamless in drama and heart.
With little voice-over narration and smoothly edited testimonies from
talking heads, Burns powerfully tells of the five African-American and
Latino young men convicted of raping and beating a white female jogger
in Central Park on April 20, 1989.
Just like endings last year of another compelling documentary, The Imposter, and the docudramas Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, we know the outcome (their convictions will be vacated by a convict's confession in 2002). Yet, the dramatic tension is constant as we witness prosecutors and police push for convictions in a racially-charged and violent New York desperately needing closure of an infamous crime that exacerbated that tension.
The coercion of underage suspects and rush to judgment stand just behind the actual crime for horrible injustice. Director Burns gets it right by letting the principals, from the accused to attorneys, tell the story. The ending commentary is the only way to exit, with a lament for the years of young lives stolen and the difficulty of the adults becoming part of the mainstream.
Reality is The Central Park Five's reason for being and one of the best documentaries in recent years.
The Central Park Five (2012)
**** (out of 4)
Excellent documentary from Ken Burns, Sara Burns and David McMahon about the 1989 crime that shocked New York City. A white woman went jogging in Central Park where she would be severely beaten and raped. Five black teenagers were eventually charged with the crime with the only evidence being their own confessions, which were pretty much planted in them by the police. I was only vaguely familiar with this case and hadn't really heard about all the events that happened back when the crimes happened. With that said, it's pretty shocking to see these five were convicted of these crimes and it's pretty clear that the only reason they were prosecuted was the media attention and all the hatred that it stirred up among people. Yes, race was certainly a factor and it was also a factor that the crime happened in Central Park. As the film mentions, other crimes were being committed everywhere yet very little media attention happened. There's no question that the material was given to the right people as there's all sorts of great information given about the case, the trial and what would eventually clear the five people. If you're familiar with the work of Ken Burns then you know he always talks about the "other" situations around the subject. That happens here when they discuss the crime rates in NYC and how this played a part in the police needing to solve this crime even if they went after the wrong people. Another great aspect is that all five people are interviewed and hearing from them is certainly priceless. Sadly, those who cost them years of their lives were too big of cowards to appear on camera and what's even more shocking is that they still seem to think they did nothing wrong.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found this detailed documentary, by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David
McMahon, to be quite infuriating. Patricia Meili, a young woman jogging
in Central Park, around 9 P.M., was savagely attacked and raped on
April 19th, 1989. Around the same time, a mob of youths were apparently
running through the park committing crimes and mayhem ("wilding").
Five of those youths, teenagers, were arrested and apparently admitted to some of the "wilding" charges but vehemently denied committing the brutal rape. However, the film illustrates how over the next hours, NYC detectives and two prosecutors coerced, cajoled, intimidated, and threatened the teenagers to the point where they consented to sign statements admitting to the rape and go on to make videotaped confessions of same.
New York City was rife with crime in those years and it seems there was a "mob mentality" to have this brutal crime solved no matter what the facts pointed to. The Mayor at the time, the late Ed Koch, notables such as Donald Trump, the media, and the public seemingly wanted these teens to be the rapists and that was that. Even though none of their DNA or semen matched any taken at the crime scene, there was no stopping this mentality that these youths were guilty.
In two separate trials, all five were convicted basically on the evidence of the coerced videotaped confessions. Only one juror, apparently, felt this was pretty much all a lie by the police and prosecutors, and held out for ten days, before succumbing to his juror peer pressure to convict.
So the five teens were incarcerated for years still professing their innocence. Finally, a serial rapist, Matias Reyes, admitted to the rape and beating of Meili, giving them details no one else would know. Also, his DNA and semen matched those recovered from the crime site.
When the convictions were eventually overturned in court for the Central Park Five, even then incredibly there were those that wrote, such as Pat Buchanan, that this was a mistake. As far as I could tell, there was never an admission from the NYC Police Dept. or the two City Prosecutors that they had erred or issued any apology. Apparently, and incredibly, there are still court cases pending to this day where the Central Park Five are trying to sue for civil rights violations and I imagine compensation.
This type of documentary makes me wonder how far has the human race advanced from the Salem Witch Trials and mob mentality of the 17th century?
Social injustice and the failure of the justice system has long been a
favourite topic for documentary film-makers. It's been done to death,
sometimes raising enough attention for the case that it leads directly
or indirectly to releasing the incarcerated (The Thin Blue Line (1988),
the Paradise Lost trilogy (1996-2011)), or exposes enough holes in the
story to make you doubt the effectiveness of police interrogation
and/or the legal system as a whole (Brother's Keeper (1992), Capturing
the Friedmans (2003)). It's estimated that 10,000 innocent people go to
jail every year, so naturally, this kind of thing keeps rearing it's
ugly head, and it makes for riveting and gob-smacking viewing.
The 'Central Park Five' are Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, youths aged between 13-15 in 1989, who found themselves in the wrong place, in the wrong city, at the wrong time. Trisha Meili, a young jogger running through Central Park, New York, was viciously beaten, raped, and left for dead by Matias Reyes, a notorious rapist who confessed to the crime years later. The five boys were in a group of 30 or so others, some causing havoc and attacking people, when the police descended on them. Through long and intense interrogations, the five made false confessions to witnessing the crime, incriminating one another with the promise of being allowed to go home.
The first hour of The Central Park Five is its finest. Ken Burns, directing here with his daughter Sarah and her husband David McMahon, is a historian at heart, digging out terrific archive footage of a city consumed by crime and racial tension, in the midst of the AIDS outbreak and the savage crack wars. The young boys, all black or Latino, were nothing but scapegoats for the NYPD, who were looking for a quick and tidy conviction. The brutal witch-hunt they suffered following their arrest, and the lazy role of the press - labelling the boys actions before the assault as 'wildings' and failing to do any real investigating of their own - is representative of the social and racial divide. This was a time when the city averaged six homicides a day.
There is also a wealth of footage showing the boys' 'confessions', which are fascinating to see unravel. There is a special moment when Korey Wise is shown a picture of the victim's bruised and battered head, and the sound that leaves his mouth leaves you in doubt of his incapability of committing such an act. The second half of the film left me frustrated. There are no big, satisfying moments of anyone getting their just deserts, and the Five, now released from prison and cleared of guilt, shows a startling lack of bitterness to the ordeal they experienced. There's certainly a lack of anger to the film, both by those involved and the directors, and it leaves things a little cold. But perhaps that's the point, that reality really is that harsh, and closure is hard to come by.
Any story of justice denied, of people wrongfully imprisoned is inherently dramatic. But Ken Burns uses this case of five frightened teen aged boys prodded and manipulated into confessing to a crime they didn't commit to dig into some larger societal issues as well. Yes, the police and prosecutors look bad for the way they mislead the kids into confessions, and then steadfastly refuse to look at other evidence. But the press also comes off badly for exploiting the case to sell papers and satisfy a frightened city's desire for law and order, instead of asking questions when it became clear things simply weren't adding up. And politicians for expressing condemnation and outrage at these young men before they were even (wrongly) convicted. A strong and pointed warning about those times when society's desire for revenge overcomes it's sense of logic, humanity and fairness.
This is a taut and suspenseful piece of documentation. It will get your dander up. Especially if you believe in the democratic principals of freedom and justice. It's about five young men whose fundamental rite of passage was stripped from them. They were forced to spend their formative years being caught up in a justice system gone awry. That precious time of life when we get to decide who we are and what we are to become. Those transformative years between 13 and 18 when we get to make the declaration of 'I Am'! If you're left wondering 'Who am I' at the end of that period something has been stolen from you that can never be replaced. That's what this documentary is ultimately about-and it will leave you questioning 'Who are we'? That boys lives can be compromised-the promise of becoming. You can almost see the direct correlation between The Central Park Five and Trayvon Martin, African and Latino American boys being denied the rite of becoming. It is a human tragedy of which we all should feel some sense of shame.
I think this documentary was done well overall. It captures an era in US history when New York City and many US cities were in rapid decline due to the economy, drugs, crime, white flight, etc What happened with the Central Park Five was the culmination of many factors that ultimately led to their conviction then exoneration. To put things in context, in 1989 NYC was in the midst of an unprecedented crime wave. In 1989 there were 2,244 murders and 5,479 rapes in NYC. In 1989 and even to this day, crime statistics show 90% of all crime in New York is perpetrated by blacks and other minorities, including the criminal that was ultimately convicted of brutally raping and almost beating to death the female white jogger. At the time, Central Park seemed like a piece of calm and safety amid the crime and chaos of NY. The night of the incident, when police got reports of a gang of colored teenagers beating and terrorizing people in the park, they quickly picked up these five kids who were in the area. Under great public pressure to get the sociopath(s) responsible for this heinous crime, the police threw out their code of ethics and justice and unbelievably contrived and then cajoled false confessions out of five naive and susceptible teens and their unwitting parents. Although lacking any physical evidence and with conflicting stories from the teens, with their own contrived video taped confessions, the five teens (scapegoats) were convicted and sentenced to prison. Ultimately, another minority in prison for murder confessed to the crime and the 5 teens were vindicated as being innocent. What this documentary shows is many parts of a society in decay from the break down of the justice system, the manipulation and railroading of innocent teens by police, the media hype that overlooked the facts, the outrageous level of crime perpetrated by minorities, overzealous prosecutors who want the feather in their cap despite the teens innocence, etc etc A good, insightful documentary.
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