Witnessing "The Witness"

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Gotham: A Blog for Scholars of New York City History


The awful story of Kitty Genovese –- fatally attacked near her home in Kew Gardens while 38 of her neighbors watched but “no one helped” -- has commanded our attention for more than a half century despite the fact that it was not true. The unbelievable tale of uncaring witnesses was challenged immediately and repeatedly, but the power of the media – in particular, the New York Times and its legendary editor, A. M. Rosenthal – cemented the story in the public mind while simultaneously erasing the victim. Despite this, some of us have worked to restore Kitty Genovese to the center of the story. Bill Genovese, her beloved younger brother, spent more than ten years creating the documentary film The Witness with James Solomon (Five More Minutes Productions, 2015; Melissa Jacobson, co-producer; Trish Govoni, director of photography), which is now showing throughout the nation to rave reviews. The filmmakers took the risk of complicating a well-known and oft-repeated narrative, one that warned of a problem that didn’t exist: urban apathy. What is missing is a gendered analysis of the social power of the Kitty Genovese story.