2016, Movies, TV

OJ: Made in America (2016, Ezra Edelman)

I must say I paid relatively little attention to the OJ trial. I think I watched the car chase and I remember our French teacher bringing in the TV to watch the verdict, but that’s about it. My memory of the entire case is more about perceptions of what other people thought rather than facts. I remember “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit” but I’m not sure where I first heard it. Long story short, I didn’t pay that much attention. I was 14 when the verdict was announced, and I was already skeptical of popular things. And when the recent TV show came along, we watched a random episode but never got around to watching it. So I didn’t necessarily know the case that well. As a result, maybe this was more rewarding for me than for those who were older and paid more attention at the time.

This is a pretty great documentary, at least for someone like me who didn’t pay enough attention the first time out. My knowledge of OJ Simpson prior to the trial was that he was Nordberg, and maybe he played football or something before that. My knowledge of the context of the trial was that there had been some riots due to a verdict in a case involving someone named Rodney King, who I think was beaten by the police or something. I can’t say I learned that much in the interim.

The film does an excellent job of putting OJ’s athletic career in historical context – how he stood out not just for being black athlete, but an apolitical black athlete that white people felt really good around. And it does a pretty good job of explaining the history of racial oppression in California and and Los Angeles in particular. And, as you’re watching this, your memories of what happened start making more sense.

The crime at the centre of the movie makes a lot more sense after watching it – OJ is a serial abuser of women – as does the verdict – this was a unique trial in a unique point in the history of LA. And the way the film presents all of it is really well done, with numerous talking heads speaking of different interpretations of everything in the film. The filmmakers allow the interviewees to speak candidly and they juxtapose these interviews so we get both sides of things. We are trusted to make our own assessment a lot of the time, something I greatly appreciate.

I sincerely doubt there is a better treatment of the trial out there – at least in terms of movies and TV, there may be equally good books – and I suspect this is about as good as it gets in terms of documentaries about celebrity criminals. It also has a lot to say about “race” in America and what it says is nuanced and educational.

An excellent film. (It’s a miniseries, but it’s only 8 hours long so that’s basically a movie in my book.)


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