Directed by: Ezra Edelman
Summary: O.J.: Made in America is a documentary chronicling the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson and how his controversial legacy is so deeply intertwined with race relations in Los Angeles and around the country.
I was four years old when Nicole Brown Simpson was found murdered in her Brentwood home. So, for most of my life O.J. Simpson has been the punchline to a joke.
I’ve never been much interested in the case; all I knew was that the he was a scummy guy who got away with murder. I didn’t even realize the man was an athlete until I saw a promo for The People vs. O.J. Simpson. I knew the trial was a huge moment in American culture, but that was the extent of my knowledge.
O.J.: Made in America is a mostly found footage documentary with talking head first-hand experience from O.J.’s lawyers, friends, journalists, etc. This nearly 8 hour documentary gives you a thorough background on what lead to the O.J. trial scandal. Yes, I said 8 hours. It originally aired in several parts on ESPN. So, why is this nominated for an Oscar? That’s an excellent question. I’m not sure what rules the producers may have had to bend or work around to get to qualify as a film, but this is definitely a mini-series. However, that is literally my only criticism of this documentary – it’s trying to sell itself as a film and not a mini-series. Everything on the screen is riveting.
Part of my fascination with this documentary might be that I was so unfamiliar with the content, so everything that was revealed in this documentary was new to me. Because O.J. was a beloved college and professional football player, there is a plethora of footage that the producers were able to stitch together to tell their story. The first parts of the film cover O.J.’s early career where we see a hard working, humble, talented young man whose star was on the rise. Sometimes it felt like the documentary was taking a left turn to talk about a (what I thought was) a loosely related topic: police brutality and discrimination in the 1960s and 70s. It shows us that the relationship with the black community and LAPD was contentious, to say the least, and that contention had a lot to do with how jurors and the community at large were going to interpret the O.J. Simpson case in 1995.
The “Made in America” portion of this documentary is where it really succeeds. Anyone could tell the story of how O.J. was a star who killed his wife and got away with it. This documentary goes deeper and helps us to understand what truly led O.J. to where he is now and what lead the American people to be so divided about the verdict of his trial. None of my assumptions about O.J. have changed since I watched this documentary: I still think he’s a scummy guy who evaded justice for slaughtering two people, but O.J.: Made in America helped me understand the man prior to his dark entanglement with fame and public adoration. It helped me understand how mistrust of the LAPD and their long history of racism caused some to have faith in O.J.’s innocence even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
It also helped me understand how far we’ve come in understanding and advocating for domestic abuse victims. O.J. Simpson was a serial abuser and despite Nicole’s multiple calls to the police it appears that this was not a significant factor in determining whether he killed her. O.J. was clearly a man prone to outbursts of uncontrollable rage – one of those moments is even recorded in a 911 call made by Nicole. Based on what the documentary shows, it looks like fame and an overwhelming ego took over O.J. Simpson and lead him to a sometimes dark and violent place. I’ll be curious to see if they do a full autopsy on him when he dies – I think there’s a good chance he could have CTE, which is known to induce unpredictable emotional outburst and cognitive difficulties. That could help explain why this seemingly humble, sweet young man turned into an arrogant, self-aggrandizing slimeball capable of nearly decapitating his wife. Or, perhaps America, the land of gluttony and lust for money, a place where you can have almost anything you want and as much of it as you can pay for, a place where your quality as a human being is measured by your material successes – Perhaps, America made O.J.
Overall, I was very impressed. This was filmmaking and storytelling at its finest and it helped me understand the O.J. Simpson phenomenon and why it has played such a prominent role in American culture. Definitely watch this, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the story. I was able to get through it in a weekend, but you could easily divid the viewing up into hour long segments. O.J.: Made in America is currently streaming for Hulu subscribers.
Best Documentary Feature
There’s a very good chance that O.J.: Made in America will walk away with this Oscar. 13th and I Am Not Your Negro have both gotten some great buzz, so it does have some competition.
Personally, as much as I enjoyed this documentary, this should not be nominated for an Oscar. It should win ALL of the Emmys and Golden Globes, but O.J.: Made in America is not a film, it’s a miniseries. It was originally aired as one and it’s length and construction are designed for 1-1 1/2 hour viewings. The 8 hour film was released in a few theaters in L.A. so that it would qualify for an Oscar, but that doesn’t seem like enough. What would have stopped season one of True Detective from submitting as a film? That’s what it felt like – a really long, beautiful film, which allows for much more thorough character construction, range of emotion for the actors and complex story arcs that have the time to pay off. Masking a miniseries as a feature length film gives it a leg up over true features, so I would hope that the Academy has stricter rules for this kind of thing in future years.
Best Documentary Feature