This is my entry for “C” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “C” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, The Case of the Grinning Cat, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Ceasefire Massacre, The Clash: Westway to the World, and Constantine’s Sword.
Title: The Central Park Five
Release Date: November 23, 2012
Director: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
Production Company: Florentine Films
I’ve never lived in New York City, but in my comfortable suburb in Connecticut, New York was the center of our news world. In 1989, the rape and brutal beating of a young woman jogging in Central Park was the topic of discussion. For many people, the crime was indicative of just how low New York had sunk into unrestrained criminality, and particularly the danger of Central Park (although statistically, the crime wave of the 70s & 80s was on the wane, and Central Park was one of the safest places in the city). The attack on the Central Park jogger and others that night was pinned on a large group of black and Latin teens. Five of them were sent to prison after they confessed, and for most people, it seemed justice had been served.
This documentary tells the story of the five individuals – Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise – who were all around 14-16 years old at the time (the same age I was a the time) and would be arrested and convicted for the crimes. They tell a story of going out in the park one night amid a wave of other young men, many they didn’t know. Some of them were violent, throwing rocks at cars and people, and beating up a homeless man. The Central Park jogger was attacked in another part of the park at the same time, and these five teenagers were among those rounded up by the police.
They knew nothing about the rape and beating of the jogger but were held without sleep or food for 24 hours as the police told each individual was being implicated by the others, and the boys felt that they’d be able to go home if they told the police what they wanted to hear. This ended with videotaped “confessions” that were contradictory and had no details of the actual crime scene. These confessions would be the only evidence used in convicting them. This is despite the fact that they had alibis of being elsewhere at the time of the attack on the jogger and DNA evidence did not match any of the accused.
The documentary shows that how the Central Park Five became the scapegoats of an angry public outraged by violent crime in New York. The racial divide of black and brown kids and a white victim played out in a story like the lynchings in the Jim Crow South. The media reported that the teens claimed that they were “wilding” and bragged of their exploits in their jail cells, which appears to be furthest from the truth. One thing this movie didn’t cover is where the term “wilding” originated from if didn’t come from the teenages themselves.
The Central Park Five would have their convictions vacated after the actual rapist came forward with a confession in 2002. The movie focuses on how the five had their lives drastically changed by the accusations, trial, and loss of 7 to 13 years of their lives in prison. They talk movingly of how it still affects them today even as they take positive actions to move on with their lives. In addition to extensive interviews with the Central Park Five, the filmmakers also interviewed family members, news media figures, and former New York City mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins. Unfortunately, the New York Police Department refused to participate in any interviews although their point of view is included through extensive archival footage.
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Last year for the Blogging A to Z Challenge, I watched Koch, about New York City mayor Ed Koch, whose law and order style of governing contributed to the racial divide that played such a big part of the Central Park Five’s case. Ric Burns (Ken’s brother) made New York: A Documentary which covers a much broader history of the City. A couple of books that capture the mood of New York City in the 1980s are New York Calling and Greed & Glory.
Source: Amazon Prime Video
2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II
B: Being Elmo
If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:
And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:
And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.