TV review- O.J.: Made in America

O.J. Simpson – race be damned – was one of the most popular figures around.

OJ-Made-in-AmericaSeriously, I didn’t know it was going to be on, but came across it flipping through the channels. On the heels of the popular The People v. O.J. Simpson, part of the American Crime Story series on the FX network – which I did not see – comes O.J.: Made in America, a sprawling five-part documentary on the cable sports network ESPN.

Many people know about the bizarre low-speed chase of Simpson’s Ford Bronco, Most are aware of the “trial of the century,” an appellation that may very well be correct. At least in the United States, almost EVERYONE had an opinion about the former football player’s guilt or innocence in the murders of his estranged wife Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The most mild-mannered person I have ever known was incensed when Simpson was acquitted of the crimes, as was most of white America. Yet many black Americans literally cheered the verdict. This phenomenon is established fact. What the documentary explains, among many other things, is WHY there was such a disparity in response.

The first segment shows how Simpson went from Heisman-trophy-winning running back for the University of Southern California Trojans to stardom in the NFL, becoming the first player ever to rush for 2000 yards in a season. But when Simpson retired from football and returned to Los Angeles, he remained famous, as an actor (The Naked Gun movies), advertising pitchman (Hertz car rental), and broadcasting (Monday Night Football). He met and fell madly in love with a young, blonde, beautiful actress named Nicole Brown.

I loved the second part. It was about the two different versions of Los Angeles, one “wealthy, privileged, and predominantly white. A world where celebrity was power, and where O.J. – race be damned – was one of the most popular figures around… Then there was the other LA, just a few miles away from Brentwood and his Rockingham estate, a place where millions of other black people lived an entirely different reality at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department.” In fact, in describing the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots that erupted in 1992, the filmmakers spent about a half-hour not talking about O.J. at all.

Part 3 was about the murder itself, and the chase, and while I knew much of it, there were details I was unaware of. Part 4 described the trial and the re-Negrofication of Orenthal James Simpson by the defense team. Part 5 detailed all the bizarre stuff after the acquittal, including the book O.J. wrote, If I Did It.

The story was enhanced by the recollections of district attorney Gil Garcetti, lead prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark, LA police detective Mark Fuhrman, LA policeman and Simpson friend Ron Shipp, Ron Goldman’s father Fred, defense attorneys F. Lee Bailey, Carl Douglas, and Barry Schreck, and many other participants. The narrative speaks deftly about the power of celebrity and class, spousal abuse, police/community relations, and racial identity in a way that resonates to this day. I concluded that 1) O.J. likely did the murders but that 2) the prosecution did not make its case due to the tremendous efforts of the defense team and some of the rulings of Judge Lance Ito.

I’m glad I watched O.J.: Made In America, though it was quite depressing. The series is available on some streaming services, and no doubt will be available on DVD soon; perhaps it’ll be rerun someday. Ron Shipp believes O.J. Simpson will hate it.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

4 thoughts on “TV review- O.J.: Made in America”

  1. I deliberately avoided The People vs OJ Simpson when it aired on tv over here recently for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because of the whole ‘murder only matters if a celebrity is involved’ thing. Having said that, I also know a lot of people who found it fascinating, so what do I know!

  2. Good synopsis of the series, Roget. I missed part three, but I believe I can stream it on ESPN, and there have been middle of the night reruns. My take away is that a similar phenomenon happened as with the Tawana Brawley case (in which as you know I was a minor cast member), that is it was not about the actual incident or facts after a certain point. The immense ideas represented needed some concise incident to enable us to focus and at least try to understand them. I’ve come to see the larger value in what appears to be incidental injustice. Not to say some individuals directly involved don’t suffer more but in a perverse way the greater good may be served; exposing/acknowledging unpleasant reality can serve us well. The process is convoluted but effective.

    As an aside, congrats to Lydia on her math accomplishments! We trust you’re encouraging her to think engineering as a possibility (among many) in her future…

  3. I had the misfortune of suffering from back spasms during the OJ trial. On my back, and that was all there was on my tv. I binged on it, that “first reality show.”

    Living in LA during the Nicole years, we all knew at least one cop who bragged that they got some sort of memorabilia as a reward for stopping by OJ’s house on a domestic abuse call. It was an “in” joke among cops, and I didn’t think it was funny then.

    I do believe OJ Simpson killed both his wife and Ron. But, when all was said and done, I agreed with the verdict, too. The police did too much bungling and planting of evidence. In the end, I think a guilty abuser went free… but justice was served. This one was all about rich people. The real color that mattered here was GREEN. Thanks, Roger, nice to read you again. Amy

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