• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:July 11, 2020

O.J. Made in America: Justice for No One

Like everybody else, I was hooked on the excellent FX anthology series American Crime Story whose first season focused on the murder trial against O.J. Simpson. I didn’t really care about a documentary. After all, we ”know” this case. Curiously, that’s exactly what director Ezra Edelman was thinking when ESPN first offered him this project. Edelman felt that there was nothing left to say about Simpson. But the sports network wanted to do something longer than a standard two-hour movie, and Edelman realized that this might be a chance to go really ambitious. The trial of the century would just be a part of a much bigger story about America and its never-ending racial issues and celebrity culture.

Known as “The Juice”
The film begins with the rise of Orenthal James Simpson, who became famous in the late 1960s as a football running back. He had a successful NFL career throughout the 1970s. Known as ”The Juice”, Simpson was loved for how fast and smooth he was on the field – and off. Trusted enough to become one of the first African-American stars to be used as a spokesman for various products aimed at white audiences, Simpson was comfortable in front of cameras. His background was the San Francisco projects, but Simpson found a beautiful white woman, Nicole Brown, to marry and built a comfortable life in Brentwood, throwing lovely parties for his affluent, white friends.

However, there was a much darker side to ”The Juice”. When Nicole and a friend of hers, Ron Goldman, were found brutally murdered in 1994, everything changed.

A referendum on racism
Nothing happens out of the blue and the filmmakers let us understand that the marriage between Simpson and Brown was anything but idyllic behind the scenes – he was cruel, jealous and violent. All the warning signs were there and in hindsight it is kind of jaw-dropping to see how the murder trial completely capsized and became a referendum on racism. The extremely effective sight of Simpson not being able to fit his hand into the glove from the crime scene, and the disastrous testimony from police detective Mark Fuhrman (who is also interviewed in the film) made everybody forget about the victims and conjure images of a police conspiracy. Even though race had no place in that case, there was no way that it wouldn’t poison everything.

The filmmakers draw a clear connection between each part of the film, enlightening and entertaining us through colorful, insightful interviews, riveting archive footage and evocatively shot urban visuals that emphasize the feeling that we’re watching an intriguing thriller. We learn how race played into O.J.’s fame even though he himself showed no interest in those issues, why the 1992 riots happened after the Rodney King trial and how they played into the Simpson case, and why both the defense and the prosecution were to blame for the outcome.

But the film is far from done after the not guilty verdict. The aftermath is equally exciting to watch as Simpson, unable to recover mentally from his crimes and the verdict, went down a pathetic path that landed him in prison after all, punished much more severely than he would have been had he not been O.J. Simpson. There was no justice for his victims during the murder trial, and ironically not for Simpson either when the prison doors slammed behind him in 2008.

Originally released for theaters, the seven-hour long film is now best seen as a five-part miniseries that ESPN put together. It’s a true-crime saga for audiences that were intrigued by 2015’s The Jinx and Making a Murderer, but its scope is superbly ambitious, marrying a fascinating murder case with themes of color and class that reach far beyond it.

O.J. Made in America 2016-U.S. 467 min. Color-B/W. Produced by Ezra Edelman, Deirdre Fenton, Libby Geist, Nina Krstic, Erin Leyden, Tamara Rosenberg, Connor Schell, Caroline Waterlow. Directed by Ezra Edelman. Music: Gary Lionelli.

Trivia: Filmmakers Peter Hyams and David Zucker are included among those interviewed.

Oscar: Best Documentary Feature.

Last word: “It was exhausting. Flat out. Honestly, I still weirdly am exhausted by it in a way that’s hard to even articulate. The subject matter is not exactly… It’s dark. You’re living with this thing that is all-consuming and it’s also exploring chapters of a man’s life in a relationship and different aspects of the way we treat each other as people that doesn’t exactly bring a smile to your face. As invigorating as it is to try to sort out a challenge that’s putting something together like this and doing it cohesively, it is also like the feeling of you’re just living under this cloud constantly.” (Edelman, Deadline)



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