O.J. Simpson and the ‘Trial of the Century’ continues to captivate people over two decades later. With the recent miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson a new generation is learning about his notorious murder trial and the real life drama that gripped the world nonstop for over a year.
You would think there wouldn’t be much more to say about Simpson and his story, yet director Ezra Edelman crafts a compelling documentary that could be the ultimate telling of Simpson, the racial tensions that were brewing in the country, the grisly murders, the trial that polarized the country and the eventual downfall of the most famous individual ever charged with murder.
I went into watching ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America with a bit of resignation, thinking it would be yet another documentary simply recounting Simpson and the trial. I was surprised just how comprehensive and compelling a look at not only his life the film covers, but also the history and events that led up to creating the volatile setting for his 1995 trial.
It’s a five-part, seven-and-half hour examination that held my attention all the way through. It’s really impressive.
The first two parts focus on Simpson’s career highs as a football superstar. From his early years playing at USC to his professional football career. Younger people might not be aware of just how popular a personality Simpson once was, but the film really illustrates it.
Fortunately for him at the time, he managed to parlay that popularity into becoming a trusted pitchman and likable actor long after his athletic career ended. Today it’s strange to look back and see him as part of the all-star ensemble box office hit The Towering Inferno.
Simpson was very conscious of the perception and image he wanted to create. Strategically distancing himself from the black community he became as the documentary describes, ‘a black man living in a white world’.
Along the way the documentary recounts the racial discord that was happening in L.A. between the police department and its black citizens. The long mistreatment and injustices that were occurring became a long simmering pot that would end up exploding after the Rodney King incident and the acquittal of the officers involved.
The doc does a fantastic job of laying the foundation of who Simpson was and his professional and personal background. It also naturally goes over his relationship with his wife and the the abuse he inflicted on her that many were not aware of.
With the hotbed of tension that the community was feeling, along with the celebrity angle and ongoing media coverage, the yearlong trial almost seemed like the perfect storm of events that would illicit such strong divisive reactions and interest by the entire country. You couldn’t escape it!
The third and fourth parts detail the murders, the Bronco chase and the trial. The doc includes a variety of perspectives from those involved, lawyers, detectives, journalists, friends, jurors. It’s pretty all encompassing.
One particular portion that stood out was the recollections of SWAT members who were tasked with stopping Simpson during the surreal Bronco chase. Watching the footage of it again I was reminded how crazy it all was. The media escalation from that throughout the trial is incomparable to anything that happened since.
Probably the most fascinating and illuminating part for myself was the final part recounting the post-trial ostracized Simpson and the sordid lifestyle that he was living.
I wasn’t aware of many of the details of how he was spending his time and it’s pretty disturbing to see how that wholesome image he had spent so long to create was washed away, and so willingly embraced! It’s not much of surprise the trouble he got into in Nevada seeing how he was behaving in those years.
The doc is a real accomplishment. While O.J. Simpson is clearly the main focus and his story of reaching the heights of celebrity to his surreal fall, the doc also manages to dissect our fascination with celebrity, racial bias, domestic abuse, the legal system, justice. It’s all very well put together. It might seem like a long series when you start it, but it’s captivating from beginning to end.