Movie Name: O.J.: Made in America
Studio: ESPN Films
Release Date(s): January 22, 2016 (Sundance)/May 20, 2016
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
On June 13, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered in front of the home of Nicole’s home. The arrest of O.J. Simpson and the trial that followed divided America. O.J. and the trial did not develop in a vacuum. The situation in California and the race relations in America became the forefront of a trial which was labeled “the trial of the century”…and nothing would ever be the same.
O.J.: Made in America is a five part documentary that premiered at Sundance and made a small theatrical run before being released on ESPN as part of their 30 for 30 program. The documentary won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
In the summer of 1994, I distinctly remember a news promo teasing a former football player’s wife found murdered…and thinking “so what?” Little did I know that O.J. Simpson was the football player and what would come afterwards. Fast forward to October 3, 1995 and sitting in my dorm room in college and hearing the results being read live…with cheers and anger coming from outside. O.J.: Made in America brought back that time but did it in a way that was both compelling and helped explain how it got there?
The documentary is extremely long but worth it. Much like the radio program Serial or Making a Murderer, it dives into everything surrounding the case. It is thorough and talks to a lot of people (it becomes interesting to see who doesn’t participate in the documentary). The story weaves from O.J. Simpson’s rise to fame and his ultimate downfall in the Las Vegas robbery. Despite the long runtime (which I think it is odd that it can be a contender for the “Best Documentary” award), it doesn’t feel like the story was prolonged like an episode of Dateline…it was easy to watch.
What makes the documentary interesting is the background given and the question it raises. O.J. is presented as a guy who didn’t seem to support the African-American community, but due to the situation, he became their hero and a symbol of “beating the system” which had been stacked against them. A lot of the people who believed that O.J. did it still felt that it was an achievement to win because of all that had come before like Watts and Rodney King. A completely screwed up police system and a racist cop were the prosecutors’ downfall.
Did O.J. do it? Sure sounds like it, but I take his friends’ accounts into more than evidence presented in the trial. Should he have gotten off? That’s the harder question. There was a lot of talk about the defense “playing dirty”, but a defense attorney’s job is to prove reasonable doubt and with the circus that the trial became, they did. Does that make it right or O.J. innocent? That’s up to the viewer and probably relates to the perspective of the viewer.