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 documentary was inspired by the undergraduate thesis of Sarah Burns, the daughter of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, on racism in media coverage of the event.[2] Sarah Burns had also worked for a summer as a paralegal in the office of one of the lawyers handling a lawsuit on behalf of those convicted of assaulting and raping the jogger.[1]

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 attacks on her and on others in the park that night were, according to The New York Times, "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s."[3]

Five juvenile males—four black and one of Hispanic descent—were tried, variously, for assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse, and attempted murder. All five of the juveniles confessed to a number of the crimes which had been committed in the park that night, and implicated one or more of the others. None admitted actually raping the jogger, but each confessed to being an accomplice to the rape. One of the five, Anton McCray, said that a "Puerto Rican kid with a hoodie" had raped the jogger.[4] Another, Yusef Salaam, made verbal admissions, but refused to sign a confession or make one on videotape. Salaam was, however, implicated by all of the other four, and convicted. Although four of the suspects 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.[5]

They were convicted of most charges by juries in two separate trials in 1990, and received sentences of 5–10 and 5–15 years. Four of the convictions were appealed; they were affirmed on appeal. The defendants spent between six and thirteen years in prison. Their convictions relating to all of the attacks were vacated in 2002 after Matias Reyes, a Puerto Rican male who had been a juvenile at the time of the attack, and who was a convicted serial rapist and murderer serving a life sentence for other crimes at the time of his confession, confessed to raping the jogger, and said he did it alone. DNA evidence confirmed his involvement in Meili's rape.

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 Reyes to the Central Park case at the time that it happened. The 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, subsequent 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.[6] 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.


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."[7] 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."[8]

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."[9]

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".[10]


  1. ^ a b "NYC is pressed to settle Central Park jogger case". USA Today. 6 April 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "'Smart, Driven' Woman Overcomes Reluctance". The New York Times. July 17, 1990. 
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ Schanberg, Sydney (November 26, 2002). "A Journey Through the Tangled Case of the Central Park Jogger". Village Voice. Retrieved August 21, 2007. Every now and again, we get a look, usually no more than a glimpse, at how the justice system really works. What we see before the sanitizing curtain is drawn abruptly down is a process full of human fallibility and error, sometimes noble, more often unfair, rarely evil but frequently unequal, and through it all inevitably influenced by issues of race and class and economic status. In short, it's a lot like other big, unwieldy institutions. Such a moment of clear sight emerges from the mess we know as the case of the Central Park jogger. 
  6. ^ "City Subpoenas Film Outtakes as It Defends Suit by Men Cleared in ’89 Rape". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Scott, A.O. (December 14, 2012). "25 Favorites From A Year When 10 Aren't Enough". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Manohla Dargis (November 21, 2012). "Filmmakers Still Seek Lessons From a Case That Rocked a City; The Documentary ‘The Central Park Five’". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ 73rd Annual Peabody Awards, May 2014.
  10. ^ "The Central Park Five Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 16, 2013. 

External links[edit]