As I noted in my reaction to the film after I saw it about 2 weeks ago, The Central Park Five is an informative, infuriating affirmation of America's racial animus. For those planning on seeing it when it opens in theaters next week or when it airs on PBS in 2013 (and I certainly hope all of you will indeed make a concerted effort to see it), expect to be provoked, to be enraged, but in the best of ways. The film, a fine piece of heightened documentary reporting, simply presents the facts, and does so exhaustively, despite what seem like attempts by the City Of New York to contest them, or at least to use them to help them defend against the pending $50 million federal lawsuit filed by the defendents (the Central Park Five – Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise) 9 years ago.
As co-director Ken Burns noted, it's ironic that the city would issue subpeonas now, given that the city repeatedly rejected his requests for interviews, which would have given them the opportunity to challenge the evidence the film presents, or at least tell their side of the story.
Of course the filmmakers, Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and his son-in-law David McMahon, are fighting the subpoena, calling it "outrageous,” citing New York State’s shield laws, which are designed to protect journalists from having to compromise their sources.
As for the young men themselves, I had the opportunity to speak with 2 of them briefly, not only about their civil suit against the City of New York, but also about the film itself, the making of it, the attention their stories are now getting thanks to the film, what their lives are like now, and a little more.
I should note that Raymond Satana answered all the questions.
– On how they're handling this new attention to their story, because of the film:
The attention has been very well received; it's been a blessing for us; we've been through a lot over these 20-something years. For a long time, there were these labels on us as being a wolfpack, and that we were "wilding" and that we were convicted rapists, and now the label has changed to "The Central Park Five," which back then had a negative aspect to it, but now has become something more positive. It's great that the audiences have recieved us, and connected with us on a whole different level, and they finally get to see that we're human at the end of the day; and it's been very emotional for us, and it's been very uplifting, and it's benefiting us also. So it's great the attention that we've received.
– On their frustrations over the fact that the civil suit they filed against the City of New York 9 years ago is still pending:
It's been very frustrating for us, because here we were thinking that we're at the end of a chapter, and that we can go on and be productive members of society, the 5 of us can go on and start new lives, and be productive citizens; but everything gets pulled out from under us again, and we have to relive this whole ordeal, and go through this court battle, even when it's been proven without a doubt that we're innocent. And it becomes just so disrespectful to us and our family members, and also for the city of New Yorker, because people start to see what's going on, and see that we were innocent. And for them to drag on this case for 9 years, just shows how arrogant they are, and they have no compassion for us and for what happened to us, and it just hurts. Because now the city has been dragging this out for all this time, and they've been using stall tactics against us, to continue delaying the process. For example, recently, as I'm sure you're aware of, Ken Burns was subpoenaed for all the film's outtakes and notes; it's just another stall tactic.
– On how the entire ordeal – from that night in 1989, to the convictions, the jail time, eventual release, and aftermath – has affected their lives today:
Well yes it does affect how we live our lives, because we're always apprehensive. Any situation that we enter into, it's something that's always at the back of our minds. Whether it's a new job, or meeting new people, or even meeting a new girlfriend. It always plays in your mind, when she finds out who I am, or what my history is, how will they receive that? Although now it's been positive because of the documentary and all the press we've been receiving, which is getting our story and the truth out there. But at the end of the day, we'll always have that on the back of our minds, because we're the Central Park Five.
– On any reluctance they felt when approached to tell their stories on film, especially given any mistrust of the media they probably carried with them:
What happened was we met Sarah [Burns] in 2003. She was an intern and she wanted to write a paper on us, and it was fine, and we didn't see any harm in that, in her writing a paper. She wrote the paper, did all this research, and in the process of her researching, she became outraged when she looked at the facts, and then she approached us later on and asked us to do a book. And by then we'd established a good relationship with Sarah. We knew that she understood the facts. And that's all that we wanted to come out, was the facts. And so we agreed to do the book. And so in the process of writing the book, as the book was getting ready to come out, and because of our relationship with Sarah, we knew that she'd do the right thing. And in the middle of that, she asked us about doing a movie. And we didn't know who her father was, we didn't know who Ken Burns was. And we were able to look at some of his movies, and take a look at his work, and we were confident that the facts of our stories were going to be told. Because in our relationship with Sarah, we didnt have a problem doing a movie.
– On how much New York City has changed since 1989 with regards to similar occurences happening over 20 years later:
I think that as a whole New York City has changed. As people, we have to take steps slower in terms of that we're not so quick to believe what the media says. Because of social media and the internet, we can all do our homework, do our own research. But can it happen again? Sure, I definitely think that it can. You have Trayvon Martin for example. The Central Park 5 was not and is not an isolated case. If you look in Chicago, for example, you have the Englewood 4. Their case is very similar to ours, but it may not be as widely known. There's also "Stop and Frisk." It's a procedure used that can lead to another Central Park 5. So can this happen again? Sure!
– On their every day lives today:
We work; we try to be productive. But it's still hard. Day by day is still a struggle for us. But one thing that we do, all of us, is that we do talk to the kids. We talk to colleges, we talk to high schools. Because that's our way of giving back. Back in 1989, we felt like the whole world was against us, and like nobody wanted to invest in us, and we felt that this time around, this is how we can invest in our future, which is the kids; this is how we give back. We're all still in touch and we're still friends.
I had a longer conversation with the filmmakers; that interview will be posted later this week, or next week, when the film will be released.
The Central Park Five opens theatrically in New York on November 23rd, at the IFC Center, as well as Maysles Cinema, followed by Los Angeles on November 30th, at Landmark's Nuart Theatre.
Here are its trailer and poster: