Review: ‘O.J.: Made in America,’ an Unflinching Take on His Rise and FallYou know, the O.J. Simpson story doesn’t really fit into The Narrative.
O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA NYT Critics’ Pick Directed by Ezra Edelman Documentary 7h 30m
By A. O. SCOTT MAY 19, 2016
… “O.J.: Made in America,” a staggering five-part, nearly eight-hour installment in ESPN’s ambitious and innovative “30 for 30” documentary series, which is also being released in an extended format in theaters, goes a long way toward filling in that blank. Though dominated by the trial, it extends the narrative in both directions, producing a detailed biography of Mr. Simpson that is also a social history of race, fame, sports and Los Angeles over the past half-century. “The People v. O. J. Simpson” was a tightly packed, almost indecently entertaining piece of pop realism, a Dreiser novel infused with the spirit of Tom Wolfe. For its part, “O.J.: Made in America,” directed by Ezra Edelman, has the grandeur and authority of the best long-form nonfiction. If it were a book, it could sit on the shelf alongside “The Executioner’s Song” by Norman Mailer and the great biographical works of Robert Caro.
… The shadow of Rodney King — his videotaped beating by L.A.P.D. officers, their acquittal and the subsequent riots — hangs over the Simpson trial, but so does a much longer history of racism and brutality. The jury’s verdict, which struck many white observers at the time as inexplicable, is situated against a background of longstanding resentment and mistrust that the prosecution misjudged and the defense successfully exploited.
“O.J.: Made in America” goes back to the 1960s, bringing in the voices of journalists, writers and ordinary residents of Los Angeles, who relate a sorry chronicle of discrimination and abuse.
Inevitably, there are gaps in the record and holes in the interpretive framework the film constructs around it. It is hard not to notice the predominance of male voices among the interview subjects, and the narrowness of the film’s discussion of domestic violence. This is not to say that the issue is ignored: Mr. Simpson’s history of abusing Nicole is extensively and graphically documented, as is the fact that most of his friends ignored what was going on at their Rockingham estate.The only LAPD cop who had taken seriously Nicole Brown Simpson’s 911 calls about O.J. beating her was the “notorious” Mark Fuhrman. The other cops would get to the Brentwood house after Nicole’s calls, realize the criminal was The Juice, and ask him for photos.
But the film, which so persuasively treats law enforcement racism as a systemic problem, can’t figure out how to treat violence against women with the same kind of rigor or nuance.Intersectionality!
And, I bet, it’s not going to touch black violence against whites.
As a black man caught up in the criminal justice system — and, for that matter, as a famous man exposed to the glare of nonstop media attention — O. J. Simpson is viewed as a symbol. His unique experience is a lens onto something larger, and his fate carries political significance. Nicole Brown Simpson’s fate, in contrast, is treated as an individual tragedy, and there seems to be no political vocabulary available to the filmmakers to understand what happened to her. The deep links between misogyny and American sports culture remain unexamined.But, O.J. decapitated another person that night, Ron Goldman, but what Narrative-Approved lens do we have to view that through? Anti-Semitism?
Having traced every step of his journey in detail over eight hours, you still find yourself wondering what the hell happened to this guy. He was made in America, and unmade here, too.Black violent crime against whites is a huge statistical phenomenon that we aren’t supposed to recognize as even a Thing. Orwell’s “crimestop” — i.e., “protective stupidity” — shuts down our cognitive processes before we can figure out what the real message of OJ’s life is.
Here’s the real message of O.J.’s life: During the second half of the 20th Century, white Americans became extraordinarily favorably disposed toward black Americans, but blacks kept letting whites down.