A 2019 Netflix
original docudrama by Ava DuVernay
about the real life Central Park 5 case
. After five young men in Harlem are accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park, the police coerce them into confessing. In spite of the many holes in the prosecution's case, they are convicted at trial. As four are released after serving time in prison, they have to struggle in getting back their lives.
Lets add examples only from the series and no debating about the nonethical behavior of the police officers towards African Americans. This is an examples page, and we should leave it at that.
- Amoral Attorney: Linda Fairstein shamelessly ignores the glaring holes in the case because she's absolutely certain of the boys' guilt and is unwilling to admit she made a mistake. This extends to even after DNA proves that Matias Reyes alone was the one who committed the crime.
- Artistic License History:
- The crimes of the "wilding" group are downplayed. In the series, we only see the homeless man get punched, but in reality he was beaten up and then a bottle was broken over his head. In the series, the group only jostles and intimidates the couple riding the tandem bicycle. In reality, the group tried to pull them off their bike, but the couple managed to escape.
- When the Central Park 5 are placed in a cell together in the show, they each admit to and apologize for falsely implicating each other. In reality, the boys were all too ashamed to admit anything, and each claimed to have not given any testimony to the police.
- While waiting in their shared cell, the boys share grim predictions for their future. In reality, they still didn't have a very clear grasp of the ramifications of their statements. One later said that he thought the whole issue was over once he made bail.
- In the show, Antron loses all hope and thanks his attorney for doing the best he could after watching his father blow it on the stand. In reality, Antron didn't thank his attorney until after being pronounced guilty.
- The Atoner: Matias Reyes confesses to the rape of the jogger because he feels remorse after two chance encounters with Korey in prison.
- Bittersweet Ending: The boys' names are ultimately cleared and they DO win their civil lawsuit for wrongful imprisonment, but only after they've served their sentences. The police officers who coerced their confessions and the prosecutors who railroaded them face no consequences for their actions and also refuse to admit that they screwed up.note
- Blatant Lies: Linda Fairstein continues to say that the police did a good job even when it's pointed out that the physical evidence blatantly contradicted the 5's confessions.
- Clear Their Name: The five's families and supporters try to clear their names, unsuccessfully until Matias Reyes confesses.
- Convicted by Public Opinion: A media circus surrounds the trial, and notably, future president Donald Trump publicly calls for the boys to be executed.
- Cowboy Cop: The police who strong-arm the boys into confessing have no problem lying to the kids or deliberately keeping their parents away from them; when confronted on it Officer Sheehan only says "I don't know what the fucking Reid technique is, I know what I was taught. THEY KNEW SOMETHING."
- Dirty Cop:
- The detectives who investigated the case ignore glaring holes in the case and question the underage boys without attorneys or their parents present.
- A prison guard in Rikers blackmails inmates, which he enforces by sending other prisoners to beat up those who don't follow through.
- A prison guard in Wende sets up an attack on Korey by other inmates.
- Failed a Spot Check: One of the cops interrogating Matias Reyes failed to notice the similarities between his attacks and the attack on Tricia Meili, despite one having taken place very near to where Meili was assaulted only two days before. The prosecutors and judges ALSO failed to make the connection as well.
- False Confession: The boys are coerced into falsely confessing by the police. In spite of their confessions both contradicting each other and physical evidence, the jury still convicts them.
- False Rape Accusation: Unusually, it wasn't made by the victim (aside from having genuinely been attacked, she was left with no memory of the event), but by the cops and prosecutors involved.
- Go Mad from the Isolation: Long periods in solitary caused Korey to have hallucinations, mostly of his sister.
- Hellhole Prison: Korey is beaten up by prisoners, mistreated by guards and isolated while in prison. He's the only one of the five sent to an adult prison at the beginning of his sentence. He spends his time in solitary to protect himself from other inmates.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: The miniseries largely glosses over the 5's actual crimes against other people in the park, which included assault and robbery. Perhaps ironically, these helped exonerate them in addition to Reyes' confession, since it was shown they had been elsewhere committing them at the time of the rape. Naturally, this alibi wasn't used at trial, since saying "I was assaulting somebody else" is not really helpful. They were also convicted of these crimes along with the rape, but the film omits this (they got thrown out as well due to their questionable confessions).
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Korey's mother didn't reject his sister Marci for being transgender. This has been attested to by his other sister, who is also transgender, who's slammed this portrayal, saying their mother was completely accepting.
- I Won't Say I'm Guilty: All five of the boys reject a plea deal from the DA because they won't plead guilty to something they didn't do. Yusef and Kevin refuse to say they raped anyone at the mandatory sex offenders meeting. Korey refuses to say he committed the crime at his parole hearings, despite it meaning he'll stay in prison.
- It Will Never Catch On: When Donald Trump demands that the boys be executed, one of the mothers dismisses him as a publicity hound clinging to his last minute of fame.
- Karma Houdini: None of the law enforcement officials get punished for their misconduct; while Reyes will ultimately serve the rest of his life in prison for other crimes, he can't be prosecuted for this one due to the statute of limitations expiring by the time he confessed.
- Knight Templar: The most charitable interpretation of Linda Fairstein; because she does want justice for the jogger, she's willing to ignore glaring holes in the evidence in order to get it and refuses to acknowledge the truth when it does come out.
- Lack of Empathy: Linda Fairstein is unrepentant when Nancy Ryan calls her out on her incompetence, insisting that she did a good job and that Nancy is foolish to feel sorry for the boys.
- Miscarriage of Justice: Some of the most infamous American wrongful convictions in recent years. Five innocent young men were convicted of and served prison time for a crime they didn't commit, and despite confessing, Matias Reyes could not be charged because the statute of limitations had run out, meaning that victim never got proper retribution.
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: The brutality of the crime aside, it's obvious that a huge chunk of the driving force behind arresting the boys is that the victim is Caucasian while they're black and Hispanic.
- Never My Fault: Officer Sheehan and Linda Fairstein both refuse to take responsibility when confronted with Reyes's confession.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Korey Wise was not initially a suspect and accompanied his friend Yusef Salaam to the police station for moral support. He was coerced into a confession, charged, convicted and served more than 13 years, the longest sentence of the five.
- Not Used to Freedom: The five men all go through periods of adjustment after being released.
- Once More, with Clarity!: While we see the jogger's broken body in episode one, it's only in episode 4 when Matias Reyes confesses that we see what truly happened that night.
- Pariah Prisoner: Korey's youth, and the infamy of the rape he was convicted of, make him a target for corrections officers and fellow prisoners.
- Perspective Flip: For years, this story was told from the jogger's point of view—the assault, her injuries, her recovery. This is the first work to focus on the wrongly accused teens.
- Pet the Dog: Serial rapist Matias Reyes confesses his guilt in the rape after two chance encounters with Korey in prison leave him remorseful. His confession ultimately results in the boys being exonerated.
- Race Lift:
- The entire NYPD Police Department are white. Most notably the arresting officers, who were not white in real life.
- Also the jury were mostly nonwhite but they are all white here.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: The fact that the actual perpetrator (a vicious Serial Rapist and murderer) would feel bad enough to confess after two chance encounters with one of the wrongfully convicted men would be dismissed as ridiculous by Hollywood.....and yet that is exactly what happened in this case.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Nancy Ryan, particularly in contrast to Linda Fairstein. Initially, Elizabeth Lederer is also portrayed as more reasonable than Fairstein, expressing doubts over the strength of the evidence, but she ultimately goes forward with the trial anyway.
- Serial Rapist: Matias Reyes, who attacked one victim just two days before Meili and went on to attack and kill several more afterwards.
- Teens Are Monsters: Matias Reyes, the true rapist, is 17 years old when he attacks Trisha Meili and leaves her for dead. The media also promotes this image about the 5 boys.
- Trans Tribulations: Marci, Korey's older sister, is rejected and thrown out by their mother. She is later murdered while Korey's imprisoned. After her death, her mother finally refers to her as "Marci".
- What the Hell, Hero?: Nancy Ryan and her assistant both call out Officer Sheehan for failing to connect Reyes to the jogger attack and for using blatantly unethical interrogation tactics. Nomsa Brath also lambasts the media for failing to do its job after Reyes confesses, pointing out how the only reason the truth came out was because Reyes felt remorse and came forward rather than because the system actually worked.