The Witness

Humans are capable of some astonishing inhumanity to one another, and they're also strangely eager to believe the worst about each other. Consider one of the most notorious tales of post-World War II apathy: the 1964 rape and murder of 28-year-old Kitty Genovese outside her Queens brownstone as 38 of her neighbors watched and did nothing. Or did they? In James D. Solomon's documentary The Witness, Kitty's younger brother Bill investigates that famous number, which was treated as gospel because it appeared in The New York Times. What Bill discovers is actually more personally horrifying, because his life choices were a reaction to the idea that 38 people did nothing while watching Kitty's murder (including his decision to enlist in the military and fight in Vietnam, where he soon lost his legs) and yet it was all an exaggeration. In addition to being a meditation on the way media falsehoods agreed upon can impact real life, The Witness is also straight-up research porn. As much time is spent with the nuts and bolts of Bill's years-long investigation into his sister's death as what it reveals — though part of what it reveals is a vivacious young queer woman whose tragic death and its aftermath reduced her memory to little more than a symbol. Fifty years after her death, Kitty is finally regaining her humanity.

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