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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.
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 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.
As someone who remembers this case well, it's pretty sobering to be
faced with these five men 23 years after the fact recounting their
version of events that occurred when they were teens and hard not to
feel sorry for them. Worse, one can't help but wonder how such a
miscarriage of justice could have happened with everybody watching. All
I can think is that these boys were handy scapegoats for a decade of
out-of-control crime and violence in New York and they became
sacrificial lambs. Somebody had to pay the price. These five just
happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, admittedly doing
the wrong thing (running with a mob of teens committing random attacks
on white joggers and bicyclists), and the cops needed convenient
suspects who were young and vulnerable enough to be manipulated into
confessing to the most serious crime that occurred that night. Their
convictions and a handful of other high-profile incidents during the
Dinkins administration paved the way for the election of Rudolph
Giuliani as mayor and a new era of proactive law enforcement and a
relentless stop-and-frisk campaign aimed at black and Latino men in the
city's poorer communities.
Does the film make its case without flaws? No. The deck is too stacked. They should have allowed some representative of the police or D.A.'s office to explain themselves. Michael F. Armstrong, counsel for the NYPD, says he spent half-a-day being interviewed on camera for the film and was then not included in the final cut. Some attention should have been given to what these five boys were doing in the park that night and what other crimes they themselves might have been implicated in. Yes, they describe some acts they saw being committed by other boys and either outright deny their involvement or couch it in vague terms. I think it would have been good to know if the police had direct evidence of these boys' participation in other crimes that night. For one thing, it would mean these kids might not have been the saints they're made out to be, which of course doesn't justify false accusations and wrongful convictions, as the most vocal critics of this film seem to think, but it means recognizing a significant gray area here. If they actually did participate in the mob violence that night, some attention might have been usefully paid to the whole issue of how seemingly otherwise good kids from poor but stable homes with fathers present in their lives can get caught up in that kind of lawlessness.
Also, more importantly, they should have had some expert on hand to address the whole phenomenon of false or coerced confessions and give their objective assessment of this particular case and perhaps give other known examples of established false confessions, just to provide some context and answer those critics who stand by the notion of absolute guilt based on confession. It's touched on in a couple of the interviews, but not by a recognized expert on the issue and not in any depth.
Still, it's a powerful piece and has far fewer Ken Burns-style gimmicks than we see in his other films. He manages to stay out of his own way for much of the time and let the interview subjects have their say. Maybe that's a result of having directorial collaborators.
"Central Park Five" serves as a warning about legal incompetence,
innocent lives destroyed, and a judicial system vulnerable to
manipulation. The documentary details a nightmare scenario for five
Harlem teenagers facing hard time, and the condemnation of America for
a crime they didn't commit. The production sets the situation
immediately, introducing the viewer to NYC in the 1980s, where Wall
Street is in the process of rebuilding its reputation, while crack
ravages the inner city, creating an explosive racial divide.
The film examines the infamous 1989 Central Park Jogger case, where a young white woman is brutally beaten and raped in New York's Central Park. At the same time, a group of five young black and Latino teenagers were quickly arrested for the crime and imprisoned. Following swift arrests by law enforcement officials, the prosecutors proudly declared the conviction as a step forward in the reclamation of a the city. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, all five are found guilty on multiple charges. Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, and Kharey Wise each spent between six to 13 years in prison, professing their innocence, while maintaining that it was a coerced confession to the crime. However, a chance encounter between the oldest of them and convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes, who years later yields his free admission of sole responsibility for the crime, and the claim is further substantiated with DNA evidence.
The documentary's approach seamlessly blends past and present, re-examines the assault, and walks you through what happened to the teenagers, from their arrest through their exoneration. Burns captures the complexity of history with startling results, yet "The Central Park Five" isn't quite as comprehensive as hoped, and fails to add anything substantively new to the story. Additionally, an element of balance is missing that would have turned a very good documentary into an exceptional one.
"The Central Park Five" presents the facts of the case with clarity, and it is a courageous, revealing look at the often complex and broken legal system in the United States. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding the conclusion presented by historian Craig Steven Wilder: "Rather than tying (the case) up in a bow and thinking that there was something we can take away from it, and that we'll be better people, I think what we really need to realize is that we're not very good people."
*** 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.
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.
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