By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
One of the many appelations for the Year 2016, and among the most unlikely in this bizarre year we all just lived, for real, was The Year of O.J. After pretty much nothing of quality, 2016 saw both The People v. O.J.: American Crime Story and O.J.: Made in America hit our television screens to near universal acclaim.
Who saw this coming?
O.J.: Made in America is surprisingly even more ambitious than a cast of stars reenacting the Trial of the Century for Ryan Murphy of all people. Across nearly 8 hours director Ezra Edelman traces the never not contentious history of the black population of Los Angeles and the LAPD which had it out for them from the very jump, and how this pervasive history of racism (and to a lesser degree sexism) manifested itself in a court case that dominated the news and the collective imagination for over a year.
Edelman develops two stories that will combine in explosive fashion- the creation of O.J. Simpson, public figure- transcendent sports star, barrier-breaking advertising icon and businessman, celebrity of the first order, favorite black son of White America, as well as his turning away from the black community in his full-on Brentwood embracing of the country club set. He also demonstrates how O.J.’s sense of entitlement and invulnerability was there practically from the start, and the way media and culture bolstered this in spite of his cheating and chronic (at least 9 police call-inducing) wife-beating.
The second is the story of LAPD and the black community, the brutality cases that began almost as soon as the two communities met, and the mentality instilled in both communities over the ensuing decades that even this documentary shows has in no way been mitigated. It shows how a Mark Fuhrman comes to exist, how Eulia Love, Rodney King, Latasha Harlins, and so many more could have their rights violated or even be killed with minimal repercussion, how the L.A. Riots were a building volcano that was bound to blow, how that fed into the O.J. trial and its very polarizing reactions despite nigh-on incontrovertible evidence of his guilt.
Kinda fits, actually.
There is a third, equally potent if not quite as developed line, which is that of violence against women and the institutional sexism that Marcia Clark dealt with in his prosecution at the hands of a foaming at the mouth media machine that almost looks quaint these days. Wonder what the fuck E! or guttersnipe like Nancy Grace would do with this kind of meat these days.
O.J.: Made in America also goes beyond the trial, unlike most other accounts of this bizarre national moment, into O.J.’s life after where he finds his tennis buddies aren’t so keen to play with him anymore, but the Black community he never had any interest in was waiting with arms wide open. The strange, sad spiral into more absurdity and mini-Hugh Hefner, wanna-be gangsta bullshit has its own sad fascination until, well, the courtroom finds him again. No protests or nationwide media storm this time; everyone’s pretty much ready to be rid of a man who once might have been the most recognizable face in America.
This is a staggering work, clearly drawing out how history begets history and how nothing occurs in a vacuum. It shows that, despite all this bullshit of “living in a post-racial world”, nothing has really changed, that all of these interrelated threads still bind us together, and that the wheels of history keep turning. Let’s see if we can nudge them off the same track at least a bit.
A few overblown editing choices more suiting to Court TV shows mar this otherwise polished documentary here and there, but these are few and far-between. The length also works against it to some extent- I’m genuinely surprised this qualifies for an Oscar instead of all of the Emmys, but it’s qualified for either. Finally, whither Chris Darden? After American Crime Story, his was perhaps the only missing voice that would have added a new and valuable dimension to this otherwise exhaustive chronicle.
Hope Ryan Murphy’s on his Christmas Card list.
O.J.: Made in America, despite its foreboding length, qualifies for the Best Documentary Oscar. Don’t be surprised when it wins it.
O.J.: Made in America (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever O.J. avoids questions of race or is called out for doing so
Take a Drink: whenever O.J. says something conceited, or admits he’s most concerned about himself
Take a Drink: whenever O.J. does something spectacular on the field
Take a Drink: for every commercial O.J. stars in
Take a Drink: for news footage of racial unrest or police violence against African Americans
Do a Shot: whenever present-day interviewee, in this 2016 film, says something startingly racist
Do a Shot: for each person you recognize from American Crime Story