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The Central Park Five | Review

Burns Dissects Why Pride & Prejudice Put Innocent Youths Behind Bars

The Central Park Five PosterAfter years of acclaimed documentary mini-series, Ken Burns returns to the feature film with his daughter Sarah Burns and fellow colleague David McMahon, who produced a number of Burns’ past projects, joining him as co-directors on their riveting doc, The Central Park Five. After spending unwarranted years behind bars, the young men – Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray – once thought to have brutally beaten and raped an innocent jogger in Central Park during the spring of 1989 were finally vindicated in 2002 after an imprisoned man came forward to confess his crimes. Major media coverage of when the five wrongfully convicted men paled in comparison to their initial slandering trial coverage, but with this film and Sara Burns’ extensively researched book from which the film was germinated, those involved hope to spread the word of their innocence.

As an exhaustive investigation into the failings of New York City police work and societal prejudice that lingered in the wake of this despicable tragedy, the film makes a poignant platform for discussion on the merits of taking shortcuts for what is considered ‘the greater good’. Throughout the investigation and the trials that followed, immoral steps were taken and definitive facts were overlooked to close the highly publicized case as quickly as possible. This meant that detectives coerced the kids to falsely admit witnessing or even partaking in the rape, and even disregarded DNA evidence that proved they weren’t at the scene of the crime. With a flurry of archival news coverage and input on the events by public figures like New York City Mayor at the time Ed Koch and New York Times journalist Jim Dwyer, as well as various doctors, lawyers and jurors that were directly involved, nearly every detail of the events are called into question and every legal error is put on display.

While the story unfolds and truths come out of the heart of New York, the soul of the film stays in the hands of the five men who’s lives were irreparably altered. Their guileless recollections of the infamous night of ‘wilding’ and the following days of interrogations that led to their unjust arrest and long incarcerations are truly heartbreaking when paired with the additional perspectives of worried family members and footage of ignorant public outrage. As we see our societal systems breaking down at the most basic levels, The Central Park Five elegantly marks a point in U.S. history we hope to avoid repeating.

Reviewed on September 11th at the 2012 Toronto Int. Film Festival – TIFF Docs Programme – 119 mins.

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