2016 will go down as many things to people, but it undoubtably had to be the year where O.J. Simpson re-invaded popular culture.
In February, FX premiered The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story to rave reviews – earlier this week the show won two Golden Globes and five nominations. The series follows the events surrounding the 1994 murder of Simpson’s wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman and the subsequent trial in 1995 in ten episodes. After starting the series, I begin to become disinterested in the numerous (and needless) Kardashian family references and basically the amount of times that David Schwimmer said the word “juice”. I already knew what was going to happen, so why did I need to spend more time on it?
Then came O.J.: Made in America.
After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Ezra Edelman’s spanning documentary was shown in theaters in New York and Los Angeles in May before premiering on ESPN for their 30 For 30 anthology series in five parts in June. The reason I tell you this is because that short run in theaters has allowed O.J.: Made in America to be on the shortlist for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. And it has a great chance of winning that award.
At a runtime of 467 minutes – 7 hours 47 minutes – the documentary is easily intimidating, which is why it was broken up into five parts. But I guarantee you that once you sit down and start it, you will rarely look down to check the time. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time.
The film chronicles the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson from junior college transfer to Heisman winner, NFL bust to league MVP, national hero to suspected murderer, and then even worse. The film combines archival footage, interviews with key people in the story, reenactments, and even crime scene footage that is not easy to forgot.
But it is not just Simpon’s story the Edelman is concerned with – the film also examines each stage in his life and the society and culture surrounding him. While he was becoming a college football star at USC, Edelman also examines the civil rights movement in Los Angeles at the time and the devastating Watts riots. Before the Brown and Goldman murders are mentioned, there is an examination of how the LAPD was perceived by the African American community in light of the Rodney King treatment. The Bronco chase and murder trial are covered extensively, of course, but the film takes its time getting there.
The importance of this documentary is almost two-fold: to show the modern day Icarus-level rise and fall of an American hero, and an examination of how celebrity, police brutality, racism, and media obsession permeates throughout our history.
You can find JP on Twitter at @jp_rcs.
Cover photo © ESPN Films