The Central Park Five

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The Central Park Five
The Central Park Five poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ken Burns
Sarah Burns
David McMahon
Sundance Selects
Florentine Films
The Central Park Five Film Project
Distributed by Sundance Selects
Release dates
  • May 24, 2012 (2012-05-24) (Cannes Film Festival)
  • November 23, 2012 (2012-11-23) (United States)
Running time
119 min
Country United States
Language English

The Central Park Five is a 2012 documentary film about the Central Park jogger case, directed by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband David McMahon.[1] It was released in the US on November 23, 2012.

Content and background[edit]

The Central Park jogger case involved the violent assault, rape, and sodomy of Trisha Meili, a female jogger, in New York City's Central Park, on April 19, 1989. The attack left her in a coma for 12 days. Meili was a 28-year-old investment banker at the time, weighing under 100 pounds. The New York Times described the attack as "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s."[2]

Sarah Burns, the daughter of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, worked for a summer as a paralegal in the office of one of the lawyers handling a lawsuit on behalf of those convicted in the case.[1] The documentary was inspired by her undergraduate thesis, which was on the topic of racism in the media coverage of the event.[3]

The documentary provides background, interviews, expert analysis, and details of associated facts related to the case and the conviction of the five suspects. It presents analysis to suggest that the police should have connected Matias Reyes, who eventually confessed to the crime, to the case at the time that it happened. DNA evidence identified him as the sole contributor of the semen found in and on the rape victim.

The five convicted juveniles sued New York City in 2003, nine years prior to the release of the documentary, for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. Ken Burns said he hoped the film would push the city to settle the case against it.[4] The city settled the case for $41 million in 2014, after Bill de Blasio became Mayor. As of December 2014, the five men were pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims.


Ken Burns at the 73rd Annual Peabody Awards

Critic A. O. Scott of The New York Times said of the film, which he ranked as the fifth best documentary of 2012: "A notorious crime—the rape of a jogger in Central Park in 1989—is revisited in this painful, angry, scrupulously reported story of race, injustice and media frenzy."[5] Critic Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote: "residents ... identified several of the accused teenagers as belonging to a group of sometimes violent neighborhood troublemakers.... Maybe the filmmakers thought that this history might muddy the waters and cast suspicion on the teenagers all over again. The problem is that by ignoring it — as well as gliding rather too fast over the gang attacks on the other people in Central Park on April 19 — it seems as if there were something here that needs to be hidden."[6]

It received a Peabody Award in 2013 "for telling a harrowing, instructive story of fear, racism and mob mentality, and for exposing the media madness that fueled the investigation."[7]

As of March 2015, the film had a rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 69 reviews and an average score of 8.0/10, with a critic's consensus of "no consensus yet".[8]


External links[edit]