American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson created by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (20th Century Fox Productions, Ryan Murphy Productions, Color Force)
Starring Sterling K. Brown, Kenneth Choi, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Christian Clemenson, Bruce Greenwood, Nathan Lane, Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, John Travolta, and Courtney B. Vance.
But a Quarter
We are but a quarter into 2016 and I would suggest the current cultural milieu continues to ask questions about the meaning of justice and diversity in our modern age.
Perhaps in part to the demagogues running for president, society asks questions about non-white perspectives on the world. What does life mean for those without privilege?
Culture wants this question answered. Ta-Nehisi Coates publishes a critically acclaimed book, Between the World and Me. Kendrick Lamar wins awards for “Alright.” The most formative episode on Black-ish details police brutality and the fears associated with another dead African American.
Add The People v. O. J. Simpson to this list.
Turbulent Times, Twenty Years Removed
Devoting the first minutes of the series to footage of the Los Angeles riots, the series quickly establishes the tension of 1990s California and the schism between black and white.
Within this volatile setting, a famous and rich running back faces accusations of murder after his ex-wife and her male friend receive the gory end of a knife.
One primetime Bronco chase later, O. J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) faces arrest and the trial of the century.
Assembling an all-star legal team including Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) and Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), O. J. brings questions of race and misconduct at the LAPD in order to divert attention away from the lack of any other tenable suspect.
On the prosecution, Marcia Clarke (Sarah Paulson) and Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) observe with disdain as the defense slings mud around the courtroom. With a firm belief in their airtight case, the prosecution slips at times trying to match the pomp and circumstance of the defense. The weight of the world’s eyes rest heavily on them.
Ultimately, the result of the trial places the racial tension in stark relief. Real footage of verdict reactions rest on racial lines and ultimately, the odd result of the trial is that the one win for the marginalized goes to a man who likely committed the crime and spent his life avoiding the people from where he came.
Additionally, The People v. O. J. Simpson suggests the beginning of our mass-media culture. The 24/7 news cycle begins with this trial; the leveraging of narrative for a quick buck halts the trial when tell-all memoirs run to the press.
And most of all, the harbingers of doom known as the Kardashians have cameos with their father, Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) playing a key role in the defense. Subtly or not-so-subtly, The People v. O. J. Simpson argues that the view of celebrity shifts in the wake of these court proceedings, to the point where nobody recovers any semblance of normalcy in its wake.
Impeccably written, directed, and acted, The People v. O. J. Simpson might be the best television show of the year. At a personal level, the show fills in many details and complexities that 10-year-old me glossed over when the trial was happening. A must-watch for anyone interested in true crime or courtroom narratives.
Verdict: 5 out of 5