A chilling new documentary co-directed by Ken Burns opens today at The Bloor Cinema, but it may be hard to sit through. It is a powerful, compelling and uncomfortable story of one fateful night in the spring of 1989 that led to the wrongful imprisonment of five young men.
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Kharey Wise are the main subjects in The Central Park Five. The five boys, who were part of a larger group that entered Central Park that night, were held, questioned, interrogated, charged and convicted in the assault and rape of a white, female jogger. Later, after each of the men had served years in prison, the convictions were overturned.
The film brilliantly brings you back to New York City in the late ’80s, showing graffiti-covered subways, massive social divide and newspaper clippings recounting daily terror in a city overrun with crime, poverty and fear.
Four of the five men appear on camera speaking of their childhoods, recounting the night that began a downward spiral in their lives (McCray lends his voice, but is not filmed). It is a terribly unnerving story about how the need for closure and the abuse of power can destroy lives.
The teenage boys — some without parents who could come to their defense — were intimidated, starved and lied to in order for the police to get what they wanted: faces to put to the crime.
The filmmakers put you into the precinct office that night. They show interrogation videos of the five youths, but the re-creations of environments are just as compelling.
It can be tough to watch because it is true. It’s eerily similar to West of Memphis, a documentary released this year about the wrongful imprisonment of three teens who were accused of murder. Here though, New York City and Central Park are key figures; the former a plagued metropolis with social classes growing farther apart, and the latter a paragon of public safety and escape.
The Central Park Five is an important film, if disheartening at times, and should not only be seen, but remembered.