PFF ’12: Central Park Five review

Michaela Murray

The Central Park Five examines the highly publicized 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers arrested and convicted for the rape and attempted murder of a white woman in Central Park. After all of the teenagers convicted spent between six and thirteen years in prison for the rape, a serial rapist and murderer confessed to the crime, leaving the falsely imprisoned teenagers nothing but lost years and a grudge. This documentary takes a look into racial tensions and the influence of mob mentality. Although there was little physical evidence that the teenagers committed the crime New York quickly turned against them. Juxtaposed against other crime that year including other rapes this crime receive far more media attention due to the fact that it was in Central Park, which had always been thought of as safe, and the fact that it was an interracial rape.

The documentary focuses on video interviews with the five men who were wrongfully imprisoned: Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Corey Wise. Antron McCray provided voiceovers to protect his identity. These interviews allow a unique look at the story of these five teenagers from their prospective, uncorrupted by what the media made everyone else in New York believe at the Time.  Along with the modern interviews, the film also contains a lot of videos related to the trial in 1989, including actual video confessions from the teenagers themselves.

During the trial the videos had been used as the main evidence to convict the teenagers, despite a lack of any physical evidence at the scene of the crime. Their inclusion in the film had the opposite effect.  People were finally able to see through these videos, and instead of viewing these boys as malicious animals, they could be seen for who they really were: scared kids. Several were promised that if they confessed, and included the names of the other teenagers that the police gave them, they would be allowed to go home and would only be called to trial as a witness. In the case of Yusef Salaam and Corey Wise they were told to come to the police station for a little while, and did not return to their homes for 6 and 13 years respectively.

This film balances this serious subject well. Focusing not only on the story of the wrongful convictions, but also on the social constructs that made them possible. The film deals with the racial tensions that surrounded the case by presenting first hand testimony, as well as historical reflection and background. The Central Park Five takes an emotional look at the journey of these kids forced to grow up in prison for a crime they did not commit, and the effect of that on their lives. As the film progresses it reveals how the handling of the case by the media, the police, and the general public destroyed families and took a severe emotional toll on everyone involved. Despite the fact the controversy and strife that enveloped the lives of the central park five, they managed to maintain likeability and a sincerity that makes their interviews both heart wrenching and loveable. This sincerity combined with through information and detailed story telling makes The Central Park Five an excellent documentary that is definitely worth watching.

On the Infamous Film Majors 5-star scale, The Central Park Five gets 4 out of 5 stars.


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