O.J.: Made in America is an incredible documentary and is one of the most riveting documentaries I’ve yet seen. And I haven’t even finished it yet. I am three hours into it, and I anticipate that it will only get better.
I was only five years old when Nicole Simpson, the then ex-wife of O.J. Simpson, was murdered. I was a kid, not knowing much about the trial or what was going on or why it was such a big deal. I don’t even know if I had seen The Naked Gun, starring O.J. Simpson, yet. I was just a little kid, blissfully unaware of the trial, the murder, Simpson’s abusive history, and the racial tensions that occurred in LA just a few years prior. As I grew up, I learned about the LA riots, about Rodney King, about O.J. Simpson, about the racism and abuse of powers that exists in a small minority of police officers and institutions. But I still didn’t know everything, I only knew the basics of the Rodney King trial and the riots that followed. I didn’t know on how large a scale each of these events and occurrences and people were in the time they existed. O.J.: Made in America shed a lot of light on these events.
2016 was a big year for stories about O.J. Simpson. There was the acclaimed miniseries The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, which I also plan to watch, which has won many awards and was a huge hit when it aired. And the documentary, O.J.: Made in America premiered at Sundance, had a limited release, was hailed as a masterpiece, and garnered large ratings when it aired on ESPN as part of their 30 for 30 series. The documentary is 7 hours and 47 minutes, and is the longest film to be nominated for an Academy Award. There is a lot of story to unpack in those nearly eight hours, but it is all fascinating. About twenty years later, the trial of O.J. still fascinates America because it is a story that is very American and deals with many issues that still face Americans today.
This film is great, as it shines a light on so many aspects of O.J.’s life and the world around him I never even knew or fully comprehended. In the first three hours of the documentary, the film deals with domestic abuse, race riots, police brutality, systemic racism, celebrity obsession, all things that are still prevalent today as they were twenty years ago. And in three hours, the film hasn’t even arrived at Nicole Simpson’s murder. This documentary is filled with such great storytelling as it paints a large canvas of everything that led up to the trial.
The first part mostly focuses on O.J.’s brilliant athletic career and his celebrity status, from winning the Heisman, to being the national spokesman for Hertz, to rushing for 2,000 yards while playing for the Buffalo Bills. I always knew he was a gifted athlete, but I didn’t know he was that good and that generous with his teammates. When he rushed for 2,000 yards, the documentary wisely highlights the fact that O.J. was adamant about displaying the team’s work that allowed this rare event to occur. He made it about the team, and not about him. It is smart choice that shows all aspects of O.J.’s character.
Another part I was ignorant to was the abuse that O.J. did against his wife. In the second part, the documentary focuses on his second marriage, his life as a film and television actor, and the racial tensions in the Los Angeles police force. The documentary interviews several police officers that were close to O.J. and several that were on the force during the Rodney King trial and subsequent riots. The documentary juxtaposes these two incidences, one world shattering, the other a shocking story of celebrity, both filled with tragedy. The documentary in the first two parts display how O.J. tried to remove himself from being identified as black, even as his city was focusing more and more on what it meant to be black. Just because he was a good athlete, doesn’t mean he was a good person, proven by his domestic abuse, and this violence is mirrored by the violence in the city. It is powerful for the documentary to focus on these two issues, and one I did not expect.
The power of this documentary, so far, is how much it is surprising me. I knew the film focused on his entire life, from his absent homosexual father, to becoming besties with Robert Kardashian. But I didn’t know it was going to focus an equivalent amount on the civil rights and race relations that occurred. I love how this documentary is shining a light on so many issues, and how they are all related to a captivating case.
Note: I plan to review the rest of the documentary later, once I finish the series in the next few days.
UPDATE: Second Part of my review is up: O.J.: Made in America Review – Part 2