Movie Review: “The Central Park Five”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, December 7, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Florentine Films)

Summary: In 1989 New York City, five Black and Latino teenagers were wrongfully accused of assaulting Trisha Meili, who later became known as the Central Park Jogger. The wrongfully convicted boys would fight a losing battle in the court of law and the court of public opinion. Their youths robbed, The Central Park Five is their story.

Review: The story of the The Central Park Five (Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise, Yusef Salaam) is not only gripping and heartbreaking, but terrifying. The fact that five young boys can be convicted of a crime they didn’t commit with no DNA evidence and massive discrepancies proves that this American tragedy can happen to anyone — at any time. Strikingly similar to the Scottsboro Boys in 1931, the film makes the viewer question how far we have come as a nation, especially with recent horror stories like Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Russell Davis. The lives of young Black men are at risk and if people in power, whether it is with the law or a gun, decide to “stand their ground” or become an overly enthusiastic prosecutor — it could happen to anyone.

Thankfully, the directors of The Central Park Five, Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, had the guts to make an outstanding documentary — even when attorneys for New York City attempted to not let the filmmakers use archival footage. Via jaw-droppingly biased news coverage from 1989, rare footage and each boy — now a man — telling their story, The Central Park Five is not only one of the best documentaries of the year, but one of the best films of the year.

What was most disturbing about The Central Park Five is how the media relished in criminalizing the teenagers without question. They were five Black and Latino teens accused of assaulting a white woman — quickly presumed guilty. When African-American leaders protested the convictions with no DNA evidence, they were accused of pulling the “race card.” In watching the doc, it appears strikingly obvious they were not the culprits — and the real criminal was on the loose committing more crimes that weren’t as media friendly.

The most damning evidence against the boys were four taped confessions. The teenagers confessed to assaulting the jogger only after over 24 hours of interrogation, being told the others confessed and eventually willing to say anything to go home.  Even the teen who didn’t confess on tape, Yusef Salaam, was still charged with a crime and sent to jail. They were confused, exhausted children who were manipulated by law enforcement.

Each of the Central Park Five tearfully told their story of aggressive police officers who took advantage of parents who were not familiar with the complicated legal system — they were bullied to use their imagination. These taped confessions would be used against them and send all of them to jail.  Even when they were exonerated, the men suffered the scars of a stolen childhood.  To this day, even after a confession from the real criminal, Matias Reyes, the prosecutors and detectives still argue the five boys are guilty.  Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., and Antron McCray have lawsuits against New York City.

The Central Park Five brilliantly tells an untold story with the victims, their families, journalists, one of the jurors and countless experts. The execution of the story is flawless, detailing an injustice that jailed innocent men who only got media attention when they were labeled criminals — not when they were proven to be innocent.  The documentary is fascinating yet sobering to watch. Well over 20 years since the incident, the film’s story is unfortunately still relevant.

The Central Park Five is in theaters now.

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