It is the defining cultural tale of modern America - a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system. And two decades after its unforgettable climax, it continues to fascinate, polarize, and even, yes, develop new chapters. Now, the producers of ESPN's award-winning "30 for 30" have made it the subject of their first documentary-event and most ambitious project yet. From Peabody and Emmy-award winning director Ezra Edelman, it's "O.J.: Made in America," a 10-hour multi-part production coming summer of 2016. To most observers, it's a story that began the night Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were brutally murdered outside her Brentwood apartment. But as "O.J." lays bare, to truly grasp the significance of what happened not just that night, but the epic chronicle to follow, one has to travel back to a much different, much earlier origin point, at not the end, but the beginning of the 20th century, when African-Americans began migrating to California ...Written by
A few months after its Oscar win as Best Documentary, the Academy specifically outlawed "multi-part or limited series" to be included as nominees for the category in future editions. Though the director has said his intention was to release as it was, a full 7-hour project, and many other film festivals had presented in such way, ESPN showed it as a multi-part project in several parts which made possible for this rule change at the Oscars. See more »
Robert Shapiro says in an interview with Barbara Walters that O.J. Simpson was found innocent. Simpson was found "not guilty", not "innocent". See more »
The "Trial of the Century" May Have Said More About US Race Relations than The Juice
A little less than a century ago as of this writing, "The Crime of the Century" was the Lindbergh Kidnapping case, beginning with the kidnapping and eventually slaying of aviator Charles Lindbergh's son Charles Lindbergh Jr. in 1932 and ending with a conviction of a German immigrant in 1935. Similar to the O.J. Simpson case of 70 years later, the Lindbergh Kidnapping trial had the same kind of sensationalism: celebrity, murder, and public obsession. Reporters and newspapers were constantly offering up-to-date coverage to a public who couldn't get enough about the case. However, there is one huge difference between the two cases. While the Lindbergh case did reveal American distrust of immigrants in certain circumstances, it did not have the biting racial hostility which erupted into public view as with the O.J. Simpson case and the Rodney King case which occurred only three years earlier. What began as a case about the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson, famous American Football player and movie star, became a referendum about race.
The present documentary "O.J.: Made in America" is more than a chronological account of the events leading up to the murder of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, and the eventual indictment and acquittal of O.J. Simpson. It's really both a history of O.J. Simpson and the historical context of race relations in the United States in the mid-to-late 20th century, particularly in Los Angeles. Other athletes who fought the injustice of racial segregation and prejudice are briefly profiled, such as the late Mohammed Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) and track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos who famously raised their fists to signify "Black Power" at the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City. During much of this tumultuous time, O.J. Simpson is strangely absent from the conflict even though he played football for USC and then eventually for the Buffalo Bills from the late 1960's and throughout the 1970's. (He ended his football career with the San Francisco 49ers at the end of the decade.)
Probably the most revealing aspect of the documentary which chronicles O.J.'s life is how disassociated he was from the African-American community and their struggles for racial equality. Yes, certainly he had African-American friends, but according to interviews in the documentary, he ingratiated himself into the upper-crust of the White community. At certain times in his career he is asked to participate in the cause of racial justice, but he declines, sometimes saying he's not an African-American, but instead saying "I'm O.J." For a time O.J. Simpson was quite possibly the most recognizable athlete in the United States, but he declined to use his status to assist in the cause of racial integration and judicial equality. While at face value there is nothing inherently wrong with his attitudes, it becomes a strange set-up for the events which follow. He divorced his African-American wife of nearly 12 years, Marguerite L. Whitley, and married white aspiring model and photographer Nicole Brown.
He had become, according to his closest associates, the "whitest" African-American in the United States. Even his first commercials with Hertz rental car have subtle undertones of racism. Certainly not overt but subtle. As one interviewee pointed out, when Simpson runs through the airport, he is only acknowledged by Whites. No other African-Americans appear in the advertisement. He is an African-American acknowledged by Whites but that doesn't mean there is a now a categorical acceptance of Blacks among White America. He is the exception rather than the rule.
When O.J.'s former wife Nicole Brown-Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were found slain, and O.J. became the prime suspect, now the tide of White "acceptance" had turned. As long as he was a successful football player, played in modestly successful films, and stayed out of trouble, which may have included the civil rights struggles, the White public embraced him. Now the White community turned on him as they felt betrayed, and the racial divides came under public scrutiny. (It was speculated that if he had been accused of murdering a black woman, the public would not have been nearly as obsessed with the case.) Certainly other celebrities have faced similar scrutiny and public anger, such as the attack on ice skater Nancy Kerrigan which was eventually pinned to her rival Tonya Harding. But none had ever broken down on such clearly racial divides. And when detective Mark Fuhrman, who claimed he found a bloody glove at the Simpson estate, was found to use racially explosive language, the racial tensions of Los Angeles were again displayed nationally. The trial was all but over. Some have speculated it was pay-back for the acquittals of the police officers in the Rodney King case.
This is a fascinating documentary whose subject matter transcends just the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson. This story demonstrates how race does and continues to permeate aspects of American life. Interestingly, many Whites have claimed that defense attorney Johnny Cochran went "out of bounds" by playing the so-called "race card". While I respect those people's points of view, there are too many instances of injustice in which the race card wasn't played, such as in the brutal killing of adolescent Emmett Till in 1955. In no way do I wish to minimize the brutality of the slaying of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman, but only to say that acts of similar violence and injustice have been perpetrated upon African-Americans and other racial minorities for going on several centuries. The idea that the Simpson acquittal was the grossest miscarriage of justice in the history of United States Jurisprudence is no less than ridiculous. Jim Crowe laws in the south affected thousands if not millions of African-Americans for many decades, some allowing the unjustifiable lynching of many innocent people. Maybe if anything, the case shows that when injustice does happen it is excruciating, no matter which race was victimized.
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