THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE
11/03/12 - Egyptian, 3:30 p.m.
11/05/12 - Chinese 2, 1:15 p.m.
By Paul Bradley
In a democratic society when a horrific crime happens, the appropriate response is to seek out the responsible party in order to bring about safe and certain justice. However, in a culture defined by class and racial divisions, democratic ideals can all too easily be perverted by paranoia and the machinations of those who profit from such divisions. In 1989 in New York City, five kids with a minority skin color and a lower economic lineage were portrayed as monsters and sacrificed to an institutional machine, robbing them of their youth.
Documentary legend Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns, along with her husband David McMahon, have added an indispensable thread to the giant Burns tapestry of Americana by telling those five kids’ story in THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE. AFI FEST Now was privileged to sit in on a conversation with both Burns, McMahon and three of the five gentlemen: Yusuf Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise.
Burns, when asked exactly why he chose a contemporary story with race at the center, given the size and scope of his previous subjects, pointed out the inescapabilty of race in his work:
“Almost every film that we’ve done has touched on or come up against the question of race in America. The Civil War wouldn’t have happened without four million Americans being owned by other Americans. The finest moment in the history of baseball is when Jackie Robinson first plays on April 15, 1947. The only art form that Americans have created was created by a community that has an experience of being unfree in a supposedly free land — that’s Jazz music. I’ve done biographies of Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight champion.
We did a biography of Thomas Jefferson, the author of our racial disease, who could sit there and distill a century of enlightenment thinking into one sentence that begins, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,’ but oops, he owns more than a hundred human beings and doesn’t see the contradiction or the hypocrisy or the need to free any of them in his lifetime — and so set in motion the American narrative that’s dominated by the question of race.”