Archive for December, 2012


Yusef Salaam and Ken Burns answer questions after a screening of The Central Park Five at New York’s IFC Center on December 5, 2012. Salaam was one of five men falsely convicted in the infamous “Central Park Jogger” case in 1990.

Earlier this week, the IFC Center held a special screening of The Central Park Five. The film, which just won the Best Non-Fiction Film award from the New York Film Critics Circle, was proceeded by a brief Q&A with Ken Burns and Yusef Salaam, one of the film’s titular subjects. The following is a review of the film and an overview of the wide-ranging discussion held afterward.

The Central Park Five is a crime documentary that solves its core mystery before its opening credits. This is to say, it’s a film that wants no one — not even the most impatient walk-outs — to miss its takeaway message. Like a political folk ballad (think Dylan’s “Hurricane” or “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”), it stirs emotions and pops a real-world injustice into focus. It does so courtesy of the unfussy, classical storytelling abilities of its architects: Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and David McMahon.

The film offers the first documentary account of an infamous stain on New York City’s history. On a spring night in 1989, a female jogger was ambushed, raped, and beaten to near death in Central Park. The woman, who was white, would eventually recover, though her memory would remain forever wiped of the attack. Within hours, police began rounding up teenagers — all of them black or Hispanic — who were in the park that night. They settled on five suspects: Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise. None of them knew about the assault upon immediate questioning. After hours of interrogation, however, each boy offered a videotaped confession of having some involvement in the crime. They did so out of fear and, as they say in present-day interviews, to get the grueling, all-night nightmare to stop.

None of them realized that those videotapes would kick-start a media circus that would culminate in prison sentences for each of them. (more…)

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