Film-News.co.uk was invited to Soho Hotel for a screening and Q&A for the stunning 30 for 30 documentary - O.J.: Made in America.
A clear, consise, and at 10 hours, 'epic' work which will see viewers glued to the screen. The five-part film will air on BT Sport 1 at 9pm Monday 11th to Friday 15th July and from Monday 18th July on ESPN on BT Sport.
Click above for part one of the Q&A and below for part two.
It is almost inarguably the defining cultural tale of modern America – a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system. And two decades after its unforgettable climax, it continues to fascinate, polarize, and even, yes, develop new chapters. Now, the producers of ESPN Films’ “30 for 30” have made it the subject of their most ambitious project yet. From Peabody and Emmy-award winning director Ezra Edelman, it’s “O.J.: Made in America,” a 10-hour, five-part documentary production coming in June 2016.
“As a kid growing up in the ghetto, one of the things I wanted most was not money – it was fame. I wanted to be known. I wanted people to say, ‘Hey, there goes O.J.’” To many observers, the story of the crime of the century is a story that began the night Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were brutally murdered outside her Brentwood condominium. But as the first episode of “OJ: Made in America” lays bare, to truly grasp the significance of what happened not just that night, but the epic chronicle to follow, one has to travel back to much different, much earlier origin points. First, the late 1960’s, when Simpson rose to instant fame as an unstoppable running back for the USC Trojans, fully accepting the embrace of white fans even as so many other young black sports stars of his generation were using their platform to shine a light on racial injustice. And then, even decades prior to that, early in the 20th century, when African-Americans began migrating to California en masse, in desperate, collective hope of a better life, trying desperately – and fruitlessly – to outrun the racism that had defined their lives. And among the thousands who came west from the south were the ancestors of Orenthal James Simpson. In retrospect, the timing was remarkable: Simpson’s Heisman Trophy-winning season came in one of the most turbulent years in American history – 1968. But even as athletes like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and others put themselves in the center of the fight for equal rights, OJ Simpson maintained a cool distance from it all. The 21-year-old preferred the insulation and the opportunities of the world he’d discovered at USC, even as the school’s campus was located essentially in the heart of Watts, the Los Angeles neighborhood where riots just a few years earlier had been perhaps the greatest civil unrest the country had ever seen. OJ Simpson, though, had other concerns besides the color of his skin, and other ambitions besides standing up for rights of blacks in America. And though his quest for fame and stardom didn’t begin auspiciously when he was drafted by the NFL’s lowly Buffalo Bills, in 1973, Simpson captivated the sports world by becoming the first player ever to rush for 2000 yards in a season. The feat captivated him onto a singular stage, and was a perfect match for the charisma he used to become one of the most visible figures in professional sports, with a wide range of endorsements, none of course more well-known than his association with Hertz. By the end of the 1970’s, OJ’s NFL days were ending, but he was exactly where he wanted to be: back in Los Angeles in his Brentwood estate; his career as a pitchman and personality at full tilt; an acting career also ascending. And while his marriage to his wife Marguerite, which had begun when he was 19, was crumbling, he’d fallen madly in love with a young, beautiful woman he’d met at a nightclub. Her name was Nicole Brown.
“I rebel against images, because then, you know, people tend to expect things from you. I think I created an image by being me.” There was never one Los Angeles, California. There were always two. One was the world inhabited by OJ Simpson: wealthy, privileged, and predominantly white. A world where celebrity was power, and where OJ – race be damned – was one of the most popular figures around. If Simpson had been running from the color of his skin since his days at USC, by the 1980’s, he had all but reached the finish line. He had married Nicole – white and beautiful; his acting and broadcasting careers were flourishing; his image was glistening. But just a few miles away from his Rockingham estate in Brentwood was a very different reality. A reality lived by millions of other black people at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department and its chief, Daryl Gates. There were incidents that epitomized the sense of injustice. The shooting death of a woman named Eula Mae Love at the hands of two officers in 1979. “39th and Dalton:” a botched drug raid on an apartment complex that resulted in massive property damage. An ongoing controversy over police tactics, namely the chokehold technique to subdue suspects. OJ Simpson, though, lived in a very different reality. OJ was friendly with the cops in his neighborhood; he’d even have them over for barbeques. Really, OJ was friendly with anyone and everyone he met – always cultivating the perfect image, even if that image hardly lined up with the reality that lay beneath. There were small things, sure, like being an inveterate cheater on the golf course. But also much bigger truths, like being an incorrigible womanizer. And then, as a frightening 911 call from Nicole on the early morning of January 1st, 1989 appeared to indicate – an alleged domestic abuser. Still, as the aftermath of that incident showed – with OJ essentially fleeing the scene as he was placed under arrest – the rules were different for him. Even as his marriage began to crumble, and the episodes of alleged rage and jealousy became all the more frequent, and all the more alarming, the public image stayed the same. Meanwhile, a much different sort of rage in “the other Los Angeles” would come to a head in 1992, when the city would erupt in riots that killed more than 50 people and injured thousands more following the acquittal of four LAPD officers for the assault of a black motorist named Rodney King. The city burned for nearly a week that spring, laying bare all the anger, and all the alienation, that black people in Los Angeles felt towards the police. For his part, back in Brentwood, OJ Simpson had other concerns.
“I can’t believe that people can think I could do something like this. How? How? How?” The police arrived at the condo on Bundy Drive at 4:25 a.m. on June 13th, 1994. It was a gruesome murder scene, clearly the result of a violent confrontation that had left two people dead – one of whom, they’d quickly discover, was the estranged wife of OJ Simpson. It was just the start of a chapter of American history like none other, one that would lay bare the realities of race, power, the legal system, the media, and so much more in Los Angeles, California and far beyond. On one hand, the evidence uncovered – from DNA and fingerprints, to a motive, to the timeline of the evening before – that pointed to Simpson as the killer was mountainous. On the other, more than two decades later, the police investigation into the murder is still a source of controversy among the individuals closest to it. The LAPD detectives, headlined by Mark Fuhrman. The district attorney Gil Garcetti, and assistant DA Marcia Clark, who would prosecute the case. They and others look back with fresh and candid perspective about what could have gone differently, what should have gone differently, and what was simply impossible to gage in a case centered around a celebrity, the likes of whom had never been the subject of a murder investigation. And of course the week of the murder would end with the unforgettable, unfathomable events of June 17th, and the disappearance, and then chase, of OJ Simpson before he was corralled, and turned himself in. If the tale has been told before, it’s never been more captivating than through the lens and memories of the police officers and helicopter reporters who just a few years earlier, had been at the center of a markedly different predicament with the Rodney King riots. The King case had been tried in the remote suburbs of Simi Valley, where an all-white jury had acquitted the police officers. But OJ Simpson would be tried in downtown Los Angeles, where the jury pool would be much different. And that led Simpson’s all-star legal team to formulate a very specific defense strategy – one that would focus on the legacy of decades of perceived racial injustice in the LAPD, and the notion that OJ Simpson’s prosecution was the result of a racial conspiracy against him by the police. OJ Simpson had spent his entire life running from the color of his skin. Now, in so many ways, he was going to depend on it to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison.
“A racist is somebody who has power over you, who can do something to you. A police officer in the street! A patrol officer is the single most powerful figure in the criminal justice system. He can take your life! He can do it right there and justify it! And that’s why, that’s why this has to be rooted out.” – Johnny Cochran The crime of the century gave way to the trial of the century, which officially began in January of 1995. It would be like nothing before it, nor anything that’s come since, and reshape the landscape of the media, and, truly, American culture along the way. It would also be the fight of OJ Simpson’s life. Over the better part of ten months, there would be dozens of dramatic twists and turns, revelations and surprises, accusations and betrayals. “OJ” chronicles them in gripping fashion, offering a chronicle just as every bit fascinating today as it was then, in large part thanks to rare, revealing interviews with the protagonists. Barry Scheck discusses and defends his unforgiving attack against the questionably-handled DNA evidence. Marcia Clark recalls how the controversial decision to have OJ try on the black glove was made. And Mark Fuhrman looks back on being the trial’s most controversial, and perhaps significant, witness, frankly speaking about the accusations of his racism, as well as his cross-examination at the hands of F. Lee Bailey (also interviewed), leading to his infamous invocation of the Fifth Amendment. The drama is palpable, making for section after section of riveting film. But there’s also the context – of everything that came before in the Los Angeles that OJ Simpson never knew. It’s all woven into an appraisal of the trial from the outside; how the OJ Simpson case changed the media and the news business, and how forgotten all too easily amid the fervor was the fact that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman had been brutally murdered on a June night in Brentwood. But OJ Simpson was going to do whatever was necessary to try to get back his own life. And in the trial’s closing arguments, the dividing line of race – in Los Angeles, and America – was never starker.
“My story is just like an American tale, you know? You need some, overcoming some great obstacles. It’s easy to celebrate, it’s easy to be friends when somebody’s winning. You know, you’ve got to have tragedy in your life to really write an interesting autobiography.” It took less than four hours for them to decide. After being quarantined for months, sitting through dozens and dozens of witness testimonies, the jury in the case came back with a verdict that quickly. And on the morning of October 3rd, 1995, it was announced. OJ Simpson had been found not guilty of all charges. Revealing, honest interviews with members of the jury offer a compelling and simple reason why: they’d been quarantined for 267 days. It was, as one juror puts it, time “to go home.” But as the reaction in the courtroom, across Los Angeles, and across the country showed, it was also much, much more than that. To many, it was a stunning, almost explicable miscarriage of justice; a tragedy; a disturbing example of what money and power could buy in America. But to another group, it was an historic victory – payback for all the losses and all the injustice that they’d incurred over generations of history. To black America – the world that OJ Simpson had shunned so unfalteringly years earlier – this was triumph. Meanwhile, it was also time for OJ to go home. But if Simpson had hoped that he could return to any semblance of the life he’d enjoyed before the murders, he would quickly learn how much had changed. And thus began the strange, next phase of his life – lived in a form of celebratory purgatory, in many quarters shunned, scorned, and mocked; but in others, welcomed as a character in the circus that his saga had undeniably helped to create. There was also the matter of the wrongful death suit that the victims’ families had filed against him in civil court, and the $33.5 million in damages that was awarded when he was found guilty. But avoiding actually paying that money simply became the next run of OJ Simpson’s life, a life that became filled with more and more outlandish episodes and escapades in the 2000’s, including a book project entitled “If I Did It,” a purported “hypothetical confession.” It all came crashing down in 2007 in Las Vegas, when Simpson was arrested on robbery charges following an incident involving an attempt to recover memorabilia that he claimed was stolen. The episode is chronicled in all its bizarre and almost comical detail, an odd but somehow fitting footnote to the saga. Today, OJ Simpson is in a Nevada prison, serving a 33-year sentence for his crimes.
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