The Central Park Five Written and Directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon
Starring: Ed Koch, Kharey Wise, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Sundance Selects
Unrated | 120 minutes
Release Date: December 14, 2012
In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were arrested and convicted of brutally beating and raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park.
New York Mayor Ed Koch called it the “Crime of the Century.” The five each spent between six and 13 years in prison before a serial rapist confessed that he alone had committed the crime, resulting in their convictions being overturned.
Renowned for his award-winning PBS documentaries, Ken Burns has jointly produced and directed The Central Park Five with his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband, David McMahon.
The documentary revisits the Central Park Jogger case, the NYPD’s rush to judgment, an outraged public, and painfully examines the lives of the five teenagers: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise, and Yusef Salaam.
The Central Park Five is a gripping, heartbreaking, and infuriating documentary and serves to expose the myriad injustices and prejudices within our country’s judicial system. These five young men were repeatedly lied to by New York City Police Department detectives and coerced into confessing to a crime with which they had no involvement.
As minors, they should have been questioned in the presence of a parent, guardian, or lawyer, but none were present during these interviews (interrogations). The police held the teenagers for over 12 hours, eventually convincing each one that the others were trying to blame the rape on them.
The cops would “let them go home” if they would snitch and tell them what really happened, so panicking under pressure and wanting to go home, each boy admitted to a bogus story the detectives were fabricating for them.
Throughout the film, we are witness to dirty dealings and wrongdoings committed by the New York Police Department. The filmmakers interview the suspects, their families, and government officials in an attempt to expose the repercussions of discrimination and racial profiling – and the media’s need to create sensational stories to sell controversy, fear, and outrage.
In the early 2000s, Sarah Burns began writing a book about the Central Park Five and their experiences. She and her husband decided the Central Park Jogger case demanded further investigation, which is where her father came in. Perhaps the most respected documentarian alive, Ken Burns collaborated with his daughter and son-in-law and made The Central Park Five a reality.
By using a mix of archival news footage, stock footage of 1980s New York, and very intimate, emotional interviews with the men (except Antron McCray who would only commit his voice to the project), The Central Park Five is one of the most powerful documentary films of the year. A compelling, gut-wrenching, and exasperating work, Burns’ film is a triumphant example of justice being served.