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The Central Park Five

A significant and illuminating examination of an appalling crime and of the American justice system.

Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.

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  • Director-Producer-Screenwriter Ken Burns, David McMahon, Sarah Burns
  • USA 2012
  • 119 mins
  • Sales PBS International

One night in April 1989, the body of a female jogger was found in Central Park. She had been beaten and raped, and was left barely alive. Within days, and after hours of intense interrogations, the NYPD charged five teenagers from Harlem after recording their confessions. Amid media furore and public outrage, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam faced rape charges. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, along with collaborators David McMahon and Sarah Burns, revisit a crime that shocked New York and a court case that highlighted the deep divides along lines of race and class that existed in the city. With revelatory archive footage and contributions from many involved in the trial, The Central Park Five stands as a significant and illuminating examination of both an appalling crime and of the American justice system.
Michael Hayden

Director statement

The Central Park Five is a film about conscience. About how a terrible miscarriage of justice came to pass, through the failures of the justice system, the media, and even the public at large, all far too willing to believe a tale about black and Latino teenagers committing a horrific crime. Those teenagers, just 14, 15 and 16 years old in April of 1989, were accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in a case that enraged New York City and the nation. Crime and crack and decay had created a fearful city, full of suspicions when it came to the young people who were most vulnerable, but who were also seen as the greatest threat. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, who were made into symbols rather than individuals, finally tell their own story, reclaiming the humanity that was taken from them in the original rush to judgment. To hear their words and to see the pain and dignity in their faces is the ultimate rebuke to the failures of the system, a system that has still not taken responsibility for this injustice. We meet them, come to know them and begin to understand what was taken away from them. We want to know how we can prevent a tragedy like this from happening again, because it could and will happen again, despite the changes that have occurred in the intervening years. But above all it is about conscience: how could we have allowed this to happen?
Ken Burns, Sarah Burns & David McMahon

Director biographies

Twice nominated for an Oscar in the Best Feature Documentary category in the 80s (for Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty), Ken Burns has gone on to become one of the most respected and acclaimed exponents of the traditional archive-based approach to documenting Americana, often utilising a long-form, episodic TV format – and has four Emmy Awards (and a further six nominations) to show for his labours. Sarah Burns is the author of The Central Park Five, a 2011 non-fiction book about the teenagers wrongly convicted in the Central Park Jogger rape in 1989. David McMahon has worked as a co-producer on several of Ken Burns’ recent projects, and was also a co-writer on The Tenth Inning.

Ken Burns filmography

1981 Brooklyn Bridge
1985 The Shakers: Hands to Works, Hearts to God [co-d]; Huey Long; The Statue of Liberty [co-d]
1988 The Congress; Thomas Hart Benton
1990 The Civil War [doc series]
1992 Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
1994-2010 Baseball [doc series; co-d]
1997 Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery; Thomas Jefferson
1998 Frank Lloyd Wright [co-d]
1999 Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony [doc series]
2001 Jazz [doc series]
2002 Mark Twain
2003 Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip
2004 Unforgivable Blackness: the Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
2007 The War [doc series; 7 eps only]
2009 The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
2011 Prohibition [doc series; co-d]
2012 The Central Park Five [co-d]

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