Rebalancing the extra-judicial scales: Documentary aesthetics and the legacy of the Central Park Five

Published: Jul 19, 2021
just art documentary poetics justice Central Park jogger Central Park Five Ava DuVernay Joan Didion Judith Butler Louis Althusser Theodor Adorno
Sofia Baliño Rios

The Central Park jogger case has returned to news headlines with the 2019 Netflix mini-series When They See Us, a dramatised account of the original trials. It has reignited debate over the injustices faced by the Black community in the United States, and led to lawsuits and job resignations on the part of former police investigators and prosecutors. Since the case’s inception, issues of race, media reporting, economics, and the identity of New York City have influenced the trial and its aftermath and have inspired documentaries, books, and the landmark 1990 essay “Sentimental Journeys” by Joan Didion. In this article, I argue that the creators of two of these works, by testing the boundaries of narrative, demonstrate that the case was inexorably tainted by a pervasive feeling of social precarity and racial prejudice which cost five young men several years of their lives, and offer a productive line of enquiry for acknowledging such factors and their influence, if not resolving them.

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Author Biography
Sofia Baliño Rios, Université de Genève

Sofia Baliño is a PhD candidate in the English literature department at the Université de Genève, where she is writing her dissertation on Joan Didion and narratives of disorder. She holds a Master of Arts in English Language and Literature from the Université de Genève, a Master of Public Policy from Duke University, and a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English literature and economics from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She is also a graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course at the Columbia University School of Journalism. In addition to her academic background and research, she is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience working on international economic policy, specializing in trade, investment, and sustainable development.

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