Filmmaker Ken Burns has a deceptive approach with his latest documentary The Central Park Five. Audiences might think that it is about a group of young black and Hispanic men who are convicted of one of the crimes of the century. They are found guilty of raping and almost killing a woman known as the Central Park Jogger.
But in reality, The Central Park Five is about the human psyche and how members of society will try to preserve it. The documentary shows everyone involved in the case, including police, lawyers, members of the media and the accused.
The Central Park Five begins with a recorded confession. The rapist, Matias Reyes, describes how he did his vicious crime. He is serving a life sentence for other crimes, including rape. Viewers are also introduced to the Central Park Five, who are Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise, and Yusef Salaam. They are just teenagers when they are convicted of another man’s crime.
Burns introduces the Central Park Five through family photos and narratives from the men themselves. One of them refuses to appear on camera in order to maintain his present life. Audiences will immediately align with them.
The young men are raised in poor, but pleasant homes. They all go to school and occasionally get into harmless trouble. One night, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of them confesses of hopping a subway turnstile.
The Central Park Five also focuses on the true criminal and the woman who survived the attack. But viewers can tell that the documentary is more focused on the ignorant, racially charged political and social atmospheres that led to the conviction of the innocent men.
The Central Park Five shows the city-wide reactions to the brutal crime against the jogger. Members of media and cultural theorists who have witnessed the events after the arrests explained that the public outrage is attributed to the fact that the victim is a white investment banker jogging in Central Park.
The Central Park Five is a touching documentary but it is difficult to watch some of its parts. It depicts a modern-day lynching that took place in the 90s. It shows a collective effort to imprison five young men who have not done anything wrong.