The importance of Ava DuVernay taking on Central Park Five

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Ava DuVernay has never been afraid to bring issues like race, the unjust U.S. “justice” system, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of African-Americans and other PoC to the forefront of her films. From the Oscar-winning film Selma to the highly acclaimed 2016 Netflix documentary 13th, DuVernay has examined how the criminal justice system is actively used as an oppressive tactic to repress and discriminate against the Black population. And DuVernay will continue this work with a new Netflix series scheduled to debut in 2019: She’ll provide an intimate exploration of the five innocent male teenagers of color  known as the Central Park Five  who were involved in the harrowing case of the rape of Trisha Meili, a young female jogger, in 1989.

The Central Park Five were between 14 and 16 years old when they were accused of the crimes of which they were falsely convicted, resulting in them serving six- to 13-year prison terms for a crime they did not commit. In 2014, new evidence revealed that the men’s DNA did not match that found on the victim, and a serial rapist confessed that he had committed the crime. Only then, 25 years later, were the men exonerated.

Ken Burns previously explored the case of the Central Park Five in a 2012 documentary, but DuVernay’s documentary will allow the conversation around this shocking case to resurface during a political moment when it’s particularly relevant. First, there is still a lot of misinformation surrounding the case. For example, last October President Donald Trump erroneously said that “the fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.” Whether people like Trump still believe the men were guilty despite their exoneration merely because they are black and brown, or because of the past media exaggeration and sensationalism that contributed to the rise of racial tensions during the time of the trial, it is imperative that that the public is well-educated about this significant case.

Additionally, this film comes at a time during which the anti-police brutality movement, #BlackLivesMatter, and the flawed justice system that perpetuates elite impunity and further oppresses those already oppressed by their lower socioeconomic status has been reignited. DuVernay’s film will likely force the public conversation about race and discrimination to include these reframed arguments.

And then, there is the significance of the film itself beyond its subject matter. DuVernay is achieving many historical feats, including but not limited to being the first Black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award for Best Picture for Selma. She is using her platform to shed light on issues facing the Black community and to make sure that the public is educated about aspects of history that are conveniently ignored by the mainstream media. In an Essence interview she acknowledged that “there is a short window for [her] in the business,” which is why she constantly works hard to make sure that her time as a director is well-spent working on radical and pioneering themes and stories.

It is said time and time again that “all oppression is connected.” Intersectionality in feminism means being aware of injustices facing different groups of people and actively working to counter and speak out against them. Proponents of feminism, therefore, must make sure that they are well-informed about human rights issues no matter their work—whether that’s directing films or doing anything else.

More articles by Category: Arts and culture, Feminism
More articles by Tag: African American, Black Lives Matter, Civil rights, Criminal justice



Faatimah Solomon
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