On April 19, 1989, you could not miss the headlines -- and the horror of the Central Park jogger case. A white woman in a tracksuit, pummeled, raped, unconscious. Who did this? Packs of wild black boys aprowl in the park. Case closed.
The Central Park Five, the final non-fiction feature in the DOC NYC Fest last week, a deft examination of the most publicized rape case in NY history, questions the handling of this case: the arrest and conviction of five black teens seemed to put the unsettling crime at rest. Now, so many years later, the five young men attempt to put their lives together after a 2002 exoneration that got little press attention. No one so much as said sorry.
Sarah Burns, daughter of Ken Burns, researching a project at Yale, showed her work to her documentarian dad. Working together with her husband, David McMahon, the three have made an important historic film on a subject that continues to unfold. Racial bias is subtext for a refusal to entertain any other narrative than the one that had these youths convicted even though the real rapist was on detectives' radar two days before the Central Park incident for another crime. In September, Peggy Siegal hosted a private screening and dinner. As the filmmakers pointed out, many careers were "made" on this case, suggesting a venal agenda to their pursuit of handy justice. Raymond Santana, one of the five, told guests about that night, his induced confession and treatment by law officials and lawyers, his time in prison. Now a grown-up, his face betrays his lost childhood.
Alex Gibney is fearless in his probing Mea Maxima Culpa, the story of sexual abuse by a priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, within a boarding school for deaf boys in the 1950's. The Vatican was aware of this crime in the 1960s. Here too, a helpless population of children is betrayed so that scandal would not tarnish the Catholic Church's reputation. Similar stories have been tabloid fodder for the last few years, but in this film, Pope Benedict XVI is seen to have played an expedient role, creating a bureau for all correspondence involving allegations of sexual misconduct by priests, never considering the victims in covering up a horrific rampage of abuse. The film asks, if you know the untoward truth and do nothing, or protect the perpetrators, are you too guilty? Can you really indict the pope?
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.