THE BLOG

An Interview With Ken Burns and Three of The Central Park Five; Documentary Airs on PBS

04/16/2013 06:00 pm ET

Last November for the AFI Film Festival, I interviewed Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon about their new documentary film, The Central Park Five, which begins airing on PBS this month.

The film concerns five black teenagers who, not knowing their rights during detainment, were coerced into confessing to a brutal rape that left a woman in a coma in Central Park. They all went to jail. Aged 15-16, the 16-year-old was sent to the adult facility at Rikers Island, which is, of course, one of the most violent prisons in America. No DNA ever matched them; only their false confessions, which were coerced under immense pressure as they were at the precinct already for (admittedly) being with a group of kids who were in engaging in (more minor) criminal activity, which is what implicated them.

In 2002, a man with a life sentence (Matias Reyes), who met one of the kids (Korey Wise) at Rikers Island confessed that it was he who committed the horrifying crime. His DNA matched. The five were exonerated, but of course, never the same; they'd already been tried in the media, and lived in cells for years. There was but a sliver of media coverage about their exoneration, compared to the frenzy of their trial.

The film concerning this will begin airing on PBS on April 16; 24 years after the terrible incident occurred. PBS will continue to air the documentary through the rest of the month.

The Central Park Five is a very well made film. It is meticulous and it will make you angry. It will make you sad. The most effective part of the film, to me, is that Antron McCrary -- one of the boys who was convicted doesn't allow himself to be filmed (the other four do) -- only his voice is used. The photos that the filmmakers use for his section is only from the trial. He is a small kid with heavy eyes, and it drives home the point that the kids (though they were up to some ill-advised behavior that night, but not anywhere near the crime) were just that: kids. Expendable black (and Hispanic) youths.

I got to speak with three of the five for the below interview, and I appreciated their openness and outlook, ten years after justice was missed. Yusef Salaam is extremely well spoken; Raymond Santana, Jr. now works with The Innocence Project. Korey Wise was the oldest, he was the one sent to Rikers, and he's been on disability ever since. He was the most physically stunted by the incarceration.

A schedule of the airing times in your area can be found by putting your zip code on PBS' site.