O.J.: Made in America directed by Ezra Edelman (ESPN Films, Laylow Films, 464 minutes)

Starring O.J. Simpson, A.C. Cowlings, Ron Shipp, Marcia Clarke, Gil Garcetti, F. Lee Bailey, Carl E. Douglas, Barry Scheck, Mark Fuhrman, and Tom Lange.

Back to the 90s

2016 is the O.J. renaissance. Stylistically, our fashion trends begin to mimic those of our counterparts two decades ago. Our music pushes toward that synthetic sheen or the grunge discord depending on your tastes.

Trends aside, the 1990s represent the last moments before computer and internet ubiquity. Consider the large monitor sitting on Judge Ito’s desk during the trial. Today, the computer would be in the judge’s pocket. Even more, today’s omnipresent cell phone society manufactures clearer cases against police brutality with confrontations recorded for the world to see.

In many ways, the festering issues underneath the surface of America begin to see the light of day, reminding us all of the cultural elements of the O.J. trial and how they operate as a forerunner for the issues of today. O.J. really is having a cultural moment.

Fresh off one of the best scripted dramas of the year, ESPN follows suite with an invigorating documentary highlighting the man, the celebrity, and the systemic issues that plague our society.

Let’s Talk About Cultural Relevancy

O.J.: Made in America represents much more than a trial that created the 24-hour news cycle. The documentary explores the harbinger of domestic violence and the need to shine a focused light on curbing those issues before further violence occurs.

While the horrors of violent relationships continue, our understanding and tolerance has shifted, especially with the opportunity to capture these acts. Ray Rice surely encountered a halted career due to the publishing of his actions. Thus, even the question of football’s viability sits beneath the surface of this documentary.

On Race

The series examines the role of race in the legal system. It outlines the decades of weighted injustice toward African Americans. It shines a light on the LAPD, outlining the many ways where the checks and balances of the system fail for the African American community.

The system, it seems, refuses to differentiate between the guilty and the innocent. No matter the circumstance, the color of your skin dictates the severity of the crime.

Decades of issues and consistent failures even-handed justice in the system emerge dangerously in the wake of the Rodney King beating. Only a year or so before O.J.’s alleged offenses, the Los Angeles area erupts in violence after police acquittals. The documentary masterfully weaves the complicated racial history of the area with the rise of O.J. Simpson the athlete/actor and his disassociation with his “blackness.”

We’re Always Watching

Finally, the documentary points to the media circus the trial of the century became. It suggests the societal urge for “real” television and the emergence of reality television soon after.

With this backdrop, the O.J. trial becomes a question of societal justice. In fact, the larger narrative begets a more complicated legal proceeding, where the scientific evidence around the case condemns O.J. as the clear killer. His blood is everywhere; the DNA points to him.

And yet, the LAPD made critical errors in the processing of the evidence. And for that reason, coupled with the decades of racially biased police enforcement, this new narrative emerges.

Reframing O.J.

O.J., given his fame and celebrity and despite his aversion to his “blackness,” needs to become more “black” to win the trial. As a result, a nation splits along racial lines, one side hoping for a new age where an African American can beat the system, and the other expecting a cut-and-dry case.

The tragic elements of the story materialize after the verdict. O.J. received a second chance to make a difference in the world after he likely beat the system. Instead, his behavior reinforced the idea that his existence serves no greater purpose, he’s just O.J.

Go watch this series. Highly recommended.

 

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