Trailer(s) for “The Central Park Five” Which Debuts Next Week
Lotta water under the bridge, but I am back. I’ve got to write something.
I saw this over at Shadow & Act yesterday and thought folks should keep an eye on seeing it in their neighborhoods, and perhaps, responding to it within their own family units and among their friends and even in their community centers. Yes, it will be repeated on the small screen on PBS, but not until later in 2013. But I would not wait.
For those of you who weren’t even alive when this incident occurred at the tail end of the 1980s, here is a recap from Wikipedia:
The Central Park Jogger case involved an assault and rape that took place in New York City’s Central Park on April 19, 1989. The victim was Trisha Meili. Five juvenile males—four black and one Hispanic—were tried and convicted for the crime. The convictions were vacated in 2002 when another man claimed to have committed the crime alone and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement in the rape.
The names of the young men were Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Korey (or Kharey) Wise. Mostly teenagers of 14, 15 and 16 when they were wrongly accused and convicted; 23 years later, they are in their late thirties, already in middle age. Their lives, however, have been altered immeasurably.
This case was indeed comparable to that of the infamous Scottsboro case of the 1930s, in which several young black men riding the rails during the Depression, were rounded up and framed for raping two white women. Again, Wiki:
Although the suspects (except Salaam) had confessed on videotape in the presence of a parent or guardian, they retracted their statements within weeks, claiming that they had been intimidated, lied to, and coerced into making false confessions. The detectives had indeed used ruses to convince the suspects to confess, with Salaam confessing to having been present only after he was told that fingerprints were found on the victim’s clothing. While the confessions themselves were videotaped, the hours of interrogation that preceded the confessions were not.
No DNA evidence tied the suspects to the crime, so the prosecution’s case rested almost entirely on the confessions. In fact, analysis indicated that the DNA collected at the crime scene did not match any of the suspects — and that the crime scene DNA had all come from a single, as yet unknown person.
One of the suspects’ supporters, Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, told the New York Times, “The first thing you do in the United States of America when a white woman is raped is round up a bunch of black youths, and I think that’s what happened here.”
There is an interview here at S&A talking to the principals about how the documentary came together. Interestingly, it was the daughter of Ken Burns who first approached them, said Raymond Santana, who spoke for all of them.
What happened was we met Sarah [Burns] in 2003. She was an intern and she wanted to write a paper on us, and it was fine, and we didn’t see any harm in that, in her writing a paper. She wrote the paper, did all this research, and in the process of her researching, she became outraged when she looked at the facts, and then she approached us later on and asked us to do a book. And by then we’d established a good relationship with Sarah. We knew that she understood the facts. And that’s all that we wanted to come out, was the facts. And so we agreed to do the book. And so in the process of writing the book, as the book was getting ready to come out, and because of our relationship with Sarah, we knew that she’d do the right thing. And in the middle of that, she asked us about doing a movie. And we didn’t know who her father was, we didn’t know who Ken Burns was. And we were able to look at some of his movies, and take a look at his work, and we were confident that the facts of our stories were going to be told. Because in our relationship with Sarah, we didn’t have a problem doing a movie.
Yeah, but last month, the City of New York, still fighting multimillion dollar lawsuits brought in 2003 by three of the young men—Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., and Antron McCray—has issued a subpoenaed the film’s outtakes, claiming that the material would justify their side of the story, which has yet to be tried in court. It’s apparent New York’s Finest still has a problem: firmly wedded to their mistakes and their racism, unable to apologize and unable to make proper restitution. As Wiki puts it: “The City is refusing to settle the suits, citing the “confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials”.” Withstood?
As co-director Ken Burns noted, it’s ironic that the city would issue subpeonas now, given that the city repeatedly rejected his requests for interviews, which would have given them the opportunity to challenge the evidence the film presents, or at least tell their side of the story.
Of course the filmmakers, Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and his son-in-law David McMahon, are fighting the subpoena, calling it “outrageous,” citing New York State’s shield laws, which are designed to protect journalists from having to compromise their sources.
The news that filtered out to California about this case wasn’t good, either. Naturally, I thought that common sense would prevail, but it didn’t . The impact that the case had on celebrities and politicians as well as New York residents was almost as divisive and corrosive as that of the national uproar over the O.J. Simpson case some five years later. And almost as dismaying. There was almost no middle ground given. One particular celebrity became notorious for his utterances then as his Birtherism sinks him now.
Donald Trump, the real-estate magnate, would spend $85,000 on full-page ads calling for the death penalty in the jogger case: “They should be forced to suffer . . . ,” Trump opined. “I want them to be afraid.” Mayor Ed Koch was often quoted calling the arrested boys “monsters” and complaining that juvenile laws were too soft. Pete Hamill, looking back now, remembers a city on edge, maybe over the brink. “Aside from the savagery of the rape and the beating itself, there was a sense that the city was unraveling,” he says. “That young people fueled by crack and rage, and armed with guns, were out of control.”
To that I would counter, Bensonhurst. Howard Beach. There is such a thing as yellow journalism, and in this case, the press followed the authorities and their paranoia and hysteria off the proverbial cliff, instead of putting the brakes on and calling for calm, analysis, and clear judgment and above all, truth. No doubt the lack of it sold papers. Pete Hamill in his “A Savage Disease” piece fed the apocalyptic vision of marauding packs of wild young black men preying on innocent white citizens. Even white feminists, by and large, missed the clues as well as the larger implications of a possible rape frame-up. As for 51-year-old Trisha Meili, the victim, she has gone on to write a book about her recovery, and to become a motivational speaker. She does not have any recollection or memory of what happened to her that horrible night; but she is also incapable of admitting some other harsher realities, as Andrea Simakis in the Cleveland Plain Dealer observed in a review:
“To me, the trials, as well as the attack itself, weren’t about race, but about violating and savaging a woman and leaving her to die,” Meili writes.
Still, as Meili herself observes, “during the week I was attacked, twenty-eight other rapes were reported across the city, yet my case is remembered while the others are forgotten by all but the victims. . . . Perhaps it’s because this assault revealed the basest depravity human beings are capable of. . . . Perhaps it is also the randomness of the attack,” she muses. She misses the obvious conclusion that the color of her skin and that of her alleged attackers, and her job at Salomon Brothers, were behind the gallons of ink that were spilled.
The Central Park Five opens theatrically in New York on November 23 at the IFC Center, and then in Los Angeles on November 30, at the Nuart Theatre. Thereafter, it will be featured nationwide. Check your multiplex offerings.
- NYC demands Ken Burns footage (cnn.com)
- Central Park jogger film spurs NYC legal action (cbsnews.com)
- Sarah Burns Calls NYC Official’s Accusations Regarding The Central Park Five ‘Outrageous’ (movieline.com)
- Super-Predators, ‘Wilding,’ & The Central Park Five (racialicious.com)
- When Mass Hysteria Convicted 5 Teenagers (nytimes.com)
- Ken Burns defies subpoena in ‘Central Park Five’ lawsuit (insidemovies.ew.com)
- When Truth and Reality Collide: ‘The Central Park Five’ and ‘West of Memphis’ (Review) (popmatters.com)