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Have You Seen the O.J. Simpson Documentary?

O.J. Simpson: Made in America

Last week I sat down to watch a little bit of ESPN’s new five-part documentary on O.J. Simpson and the next thing I knew I’d spent 7 hours and 43 minutes glued to my seat. It has been the topic of deep conversations at our office, and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re looking for something mesmerizing. (You can watch it all online here, or on ESPN on-demand, if you have cable.)

Most of my friends were old enough in 1994 to remember watching the televised car chase that started a national obsession with O.J.’s arrest for murder, the eight-month trial and his acquittal. Even as a teenager, I spent countless hours listening to CNN legal analysts pick apart the court case. And Megan recalls her high school broadcasting the verdict live from the courtroom. But, until this documentary, it was pretty hard, at least for me, to wrap my head around the O.J. saga in its full context. Was it just a sensationalized murder case, or a much bigger and more symbolic event in American history? Having seen the film, I would definitely say the latter. Here’s how the New York magazine review put it:

[The director, Ezra Edelman] is able to give a true, and truly operatic, 360-degree treatment of a story that basically nobody has ever before been able to process except in pieces. There was the way the trial was viewed so differently by black and white audiences, of course, but also all the aspects that could be appreciated only by smaller groups — those savvy about race in American sports, those crusading to make domestic violence an unoverlookable national horror story, those who knew the celebrity cult of Los Angeles and its tabloid-economy underbelly, those who appreciated the coming of reality television, and those who saw the terrible naïveté of a country trying to reckon with centuries of racial injustice by turning the trial of a single man into a national morality play. Simpson’s trial was always bigger than him, bigger than sports, bigger than celebrity, bigger than anyone realized at the time. It has taken 21 years for someone to capture what the trial was really about — everything it was about.

I get chills reading that, recognizing all the things the film opened my eyes to. There are a bunch of other fascinating reviews that beseech their readers to watch this film, and are fun to read before or after you’ve seen it. A few to check out: The Atlantic, the New York Times, the New Yorker and the L.A. Times, which called it “an exceptional 7 1/2-hour documentary, so perceptive, empathetic and compelling you want it never to end.”

O.J. Simpson: Made in America

Have you watched the documentary? What did you think? (You can see the trailer here.)

P.S. 10 facts about Making a Murderer, and another powerful documentary.

  1. Katie says...

    Thank you for posting about this, Lexi! I am simultaneously thrilled & repulsed at the thought of diving back into this case, which looms large as I stare down the barrel of my 20th high school reunion this year. I grew up in rural northern California (the vast expanse between Sacto & Oregon where no one visits:)) and this case totally charged & divided our class; friendships established in kindergarten became difficult. IT WAS NUTS! We debated it heavily in history class, the halls, and the playing fields; fights broke out! We watched the verdict live. A fight between parents in the stands at a (girls) basketball tournament ensued after a racial slur was directed FROM A COACH to one of our players. I remember having this constant low-level hum of anxiety at the time because *something* bigger was going on, but no one could seem to say what, exactly, it was. It sounds like this doc finally gets to the real rub of it all. I feel alternately relieved (?) & daunted when I think about what the film makers have unearthed…

  2. I have to confess to watching the documentary side by side with the FX miniseries. It is auspicious viewer serendipity when a documentary and a dramatized account of the same event come out so soon after each other.

    The documentary certainly offers a wider and more in-depth portrayal of O.J. Simpson the person and the milieu in which he became famous, his private relationships and finally the murders and the trial. The miniseries on the other hand has much to say about the many personalities involved in the trial and how the media portrayed them. I live in southern Africa and a very similar and equally fatal incident happened in South Africa on 14 February 2013, just look up Oscar Pistorius. Fame, in both the O.J. and Oscar cases, makes issues of justice, domestic violence and murder household topics.

    Not my usual choice of “entertainment” but none-the-less the O.J. documentary and miniseries are both riveting.

  3. Grace Kim says...

    Joanna, any idea if it’s available anywhere to watch if you’re outside the US? Have heard so much about it and would really love to watch it, but I’m in Korea and haven’t been able to find a way to watch it yet…

    • Grace Kim says...

      Joanna..or Lexi…or anyone…? ;)

  4. Julie says...

    I thought this documentary was extremely well done. The music was haunting- reminded me of “Homeland”! I feel like the OJ trial and 9/11 were the most profound events for those of us late 70’s/early 80’s born kids. The way media exploded between those 2 events is unbelievable…can you imagine if Facebook was around during the OJ trial?!

  5. Colleen says...

    I haven’t but the FX miniseries was phenomenal. Sarah Paulson for an Emmy! Thanks for the link!

  6. Kim says...

    My husband and I watched it on a whim. I was only 9 when it happened and remember watching my parents watching the trial but I never really understood/cared about it too much. As the decade went on you just knew about oh Simpson but this doc really introduced me to him (as a football player, entertainer). I truly had no idea he was so famous before this trial. It was riveting but also gut renching to watch. I told my mom about it, she loves all the crime shows and what not and I thought she would really get into it. She cut me off in my description and said there was no way she could relive any part of that trial. It truly is heart breaking on all fronts.

  7. My husband loves 30 for 30’s…we’re going to have to watch this together!

    Also, I highly recommend the “Rand University” 30 for 30, about Randy Moss and the West Virginia town he grew up in (Rand) and his NFL success. It sheds important insights on race/economic class in our country. Also, it’s only 49 minutes versus 7+ hours and on Netflix!

  8. Francoise says...

    Very well done and definitely worth watching, but be warned–episode 4 contains graphic images of Nicole and Ron at the crime scene. They are the most brutal and unsettling images I’ve ever seen and I don’t think I’ll ever get them out of my mind. I don’t know if they’ve ever been released to the general public before, but I’ve been surprised at how few people seem to comment on them–not just here, but in the media generally. They are a horrific reflection of his mindset, especially in light of his behavior after. And unlike some, I reject totally the idea that society is implicated in this crime. This was an act of deeply personal rage.

    • Faith says...

      Society is definitely not to blame, but I think that society and not OJ were on trial in this case.

  9. I’m so excited to watch it! I was 17 and on a year-long road trip. We heard the verdict while hiking in New Hampshire (far from our Oregon home and disconnected from the news) when a ranger came running at my friend and I yelling “he’s not guilty! They said he’s not guilty!”

  10. I just finished watching this and found it riveting. This story captured the attention of so many. I remember my Grade 7 teacher brought a radio into our class so we could listen to the verdict. Watching this documentary helped me understand the gravity of the trial, something I really didn’t process as a kid. It interweaves a tragic story within the larger societal context while forcing you to reflect on your own identity.

    http://www.typeatypeb.com

  11. Laura Johnson says...

    I watched it and really enjoyed it. I also watched a brilliant film recently, called Concussion, starring Will Smith. It is about the pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play. He called this ‘Chronic traumatic encephalopathy’. They believe that OJ Simpson could be suffering from this brain damage, but at the moment are unable to prove it until after he is dead.

  12. Sarah K says...

    It was so compelling, eye-opening, and heartbreaking. I remember the bronco chase and the racial divisions about the verdict, but had never placed the trial in the context of the long-term racist horrors perpetrated by parts of the LA police force…that connection made everything make so much sense. Also, I had never seen the “OJ” charm and I felt it operated even in this documentary–despite all the evidence and the horrible, unspeakable crime, when he was on the screen he was so believable and charismatic. And I found myself wondering how such a person could commit such a crime. In addition to the racism/racial tension context, and the way justice was abused both in the criminal trial and his later trial for armed robbery, I think that is what will stay with me most: the fact that an unfettered lifestyle and unending adulation can take a person with incredible natural gifts and warmth and lead him down the slippery slopes to become a brutal murderer and a liar who perhaps believes his own lies. I can’t shake the image of OJ’s head drooping under the staggering verdict that finally sent him to prison: this man who had spiraled out of all control finally broken, but with an old habit of politeness emerging to make him say “thank you” to the judge. Such a profoundly American tragedy, as the title makes clear.

    • I just finished watching and wow. I couldn’t agree more about his “thank you” comment. Well said Sarah!

  13. Great Article Jo. Very interesting. x

  14. Lol, I watched it last week. I was 4 when the whole trial was happening, and though I knew OJ had murdered someone growing up and that his acquittal had been divided along racial lines (and the famous “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” phrase), I was most acquainted with him by way of The Towering Inferno movie. Ha!

    I found the whole thing fascinating, specifically as a black woman who definitely would not have been cheering when he got off. However, it really put into perspective the SOCIAL CLIMATE at the time of the trial and OJ’s outright rejection of his blackness (at least for the first half of his life). The ENTIRE STORY is so so sad from pretty much every angle. Also seeing footage from the various events (rodney king, that girl that was shot by the Korean store owner, etc) really put into perspective the social climate that we are in TODAY and how not much has changed. And by that I mean, the power structure in place, and how different groups react to racially charged events. Also, the way the media always has a biased & specific narrative and LIVES FOR the spectacle.

    So many thoughts. It was a great documentary!

    • OH. I just wanted to add that the title itself is PERFECT. Made In America implicates EVERYONE. Not just OJ.

  15. Eileen says...

    When the verdict was being televised, I was in college and our professor stopped the lecture to let us watch live. I have yet to watch this documentary but listened to a podcast about it with the director and Jeffrey Toobin. The horrible part about Mark Fuhrman’s past– his history of violence against black and Hispanic suspects- and how he was allowed to remain a cop just made my stomach turn.

  16. Lauren says...

    I haven’t seen all of it, but Nicole’s 911 calls are just devastating. It is so painful to hear her voice & hear the situation, and imagine being in that scenario. I also think of Ron Goldman’s father, in particular, and wonder how he is doing after all this time. I’ve lost a loved one early in their life (my sister, age 26), and I cannot fathom how a loved one copes with a situation such as this, where their loved one was taken from them in such a brutal way, and there is no justice.

  17. Karen says...

    I’m old enough to have followed the trial (as a young mom with 3 kids) and remember being really disappointed in the prosecution’s case but also upset that it was O.J., since, as a teenager, I remember him as a football player and “the Hertz guy”! The documentary was mesmerizing. It’s a fascinating story; you couldn’t make it up. The FX channel also did an excellent series earlier this year, based on a book, that re-enacted the trial, with some great acting! Sad but true, it’s a story that forever changed a lot about American justice and our culture.

  18. Karin says...

    I followed the trial and I live in L.A. So we were in the thick of it. But this documentary pulled everything together so skillfully that even though I knew all the facts, it was eye opening. Seeing the actual crime scene photos was a big difference between now and then – so much more brutal than it was conveyed in the media. This documentary made me sad for everyone involved.

  19. jeannie says...

    I got a much better understanding of racial inequality in America and the differing reactions to the verdict than I ever had at the time it all happened. Very enlightening and riveting – and heartbreaking. Not just a replay of the trial, but a view of it all in a larger context. I couldn’t stop watching.

    • Same.
      It’s this context that is missing in most conversations about racism in America. Opened my eyes, for sure.
      I had also forgotten what an amazing football player OJ Simpson had been. I was fairly young when all this went down, and funnily, it wasn’t until watching this documentary I remembered that at the time, I thought OJ was innocent, because I just couldn’t imagine a rich, famous, talented, and handsome man could do something like that.
      Of course I see now that he was a rage-filled charade, and clearly guilty. His post-verdict behaviour was equally sickening, as he imposed it on those poor children of his.
      Highly recommended documentary.

  20. Colleen says...

    I watched the part with the murders/trial itself. Seeing the crime scene photos and what happened to Nicole and Ron were eye-opening. I was 10-almost-11 when the murders happened, so I wasn’t privy to such images.

  21. Suzanne says...

    I resisted watching it because I’m old enough to have been a grown-up when the trial happened, and the thought of the documentary series was exhausting (I remember it happening; why do I need to relive all of that awfulness?). But then I watched, and it is riveting. It tells such a big story from so many perspectives thoughtfully. I’m actually planning on using it this fall for a high school course on crime and justice.

  22. Meghan says...

    While we’re on the topic of documentaries of events from the 90s, has any one seen “Soaked in Bleach?” It’s about the death of Kurt Cobain and completely changed what I know about him! It’s available on Amazon Prime.

  23. Emily says...

    It doesn’t seem to be available outside of the US :'(

  24. Joanna says...

    I thought it was fantastic and tremendously relevant. It provided insight into the pain and frustration that continues to fuel racial tension in the U.S. and helped me better understand the Black Lives Matter movement. Well worth making time to watch it.

  25. I LOVED it. It was so well-done and different than anything else I’d seen on him. It did a deep-dive into his upbringing, his rise to fame and his very, VERY long fall. The race stuff was really powerful and I also learned a ton I didn’t know (and I watched the FX show and other specials). GREAT doc.

  26. watched it and felt like I was seeing the whole thing through different eyes, seeing the entire picture. the 911 calls that nicole made were especially heart-wrenching.

  27. You have to check out the #564 episode of This American Life where OJ Simpson makes a reality TV show and jokes about the murders. What a weird, fascinating guy. Apparently that year, more people watch his trial than the Super Bowl!

  28. Tessa says...

    I don’t think I could watch it. I’ll never forget all of the black women who cheered when he was acquitted and (as a victim of spousal abuse) feeling so betrayed by my own sex. I would never cheer about a man being acquitted under such a mountain of evidence, no matter what race or religion his victim was. Revenge doesn’t belong in a courtroom- justice does. Before that moment in time I always felt that all women were sisters… it still makes my heart ache to remember.

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      That’s a fascinating and not insignificant piece of the film, and was really eye-opening for me, showing how multi-layered the case was for many people. Worth watching!

    • jen says...

      I also remember black women cheering in our office. When I was asked if I thought he was guilty, I would say, well, he beat his wife, she finally divorced him and then she was violently butchered. Who do you think did it? We are in criminal justice, and I was suprised by the verdict.

    • I Understand where you are coming from, Tessa, but I think watching the documentary will help you understand the race side of it more. As a Black Woman, we are judged on our race before our skin color, and there have been countless times that, under a mountain of evidence, there was still no justice for a black person in court. Not to say what’s right or wrong, but it opens eyes to how big of a factor race played in this case. Especially because OJ started to believe that he himself was “above” other black people at some points. (He actually said something to this effect in the documentary) Women are all sisters, but didn’t races of women have different battles that shape how they view certain things. It’s hard to explain, but I just hope that you can watch it one day. <3

  29. margaux says...

    yes, my husband and i watched it last week. it was riveting, eye-opening and so, so sad.

  30. Summer says...

    Oh, I’ll have to watch it! I was 12 when it happened, and the first time I heard of OJ Simpson was when my parents and I watched the Bronco chase on tv. It was so exciting!

    My school was half white/half black, and I remember when they announced the verdict over the loud speaker, there was a very clear divide on the reactions.

  31. Kate says...

    Looking forward to diving into this. My entire office watched The People vs OJ earlier this year on FX and we were so into it. So well done and touched upon all of these topics as well The Marsha Clark sexism aspects were so eye opening.

  32. Angela says...

    I watched it and one of the moments that made my jaw drop is when one of the commentators said something to the effect of “he was a really good looking guy, he had white features” which was so bizarre, his features are like that of so many other black men, nothing “white” looking about him, it made me laugh and shake my head at the same time, and I wonder did the editors catch that and purposely put it in there without addressing it…

  33. Lauren says...

    I’m going to visit my parents this weekend, and I told them that I won’t come up if they haven’t watched this yet. I need to talk about it with someone! From start to finish it was masterfully crafted and edited. A great film, but unfortunately it was just too disturbing to watch more than once. Especially the brutal episode four.

    To this day, I still feel so badly for Ron Goldman’s family. Just a poor young man in the wrong place at the exact wrong time.

  34. wow. until now i had no interest this. but yes i so so vividly remember having an opinion on this trial even at the age of 12. and of course all the discussion about kato kaelin’s hair!

  35. MrsB says...

    I remember arriving after 7 hours in the car at my son’s house only to see the Bronco chase in progress on live tv. I followed trial, but since working at that time I just got what broadcasters wanted to show on evening news.
    It seemed DNA evidence overwhelming and did not fully understand verdict. After watching jurors say it was payback for Rodney King it just made me angry.

    Revelation that he did not feel he was a black man surprising. What a sad ending for a great athlete who felt he was above so much and had no control over his temper.

    Fascinating documentary. Riveting.

    • j. says...

      Yes, there are so many sad things about the case — but one of them was that he so totally rejected the black community, the civil rights movement, had zero interest in how people were affected by the Watts riots, Rodney King, etc — and yet the black community was so quick to jump to his defense no matter what, when he generally wanted nothing to do with them. Such a strange and multi-layered case.

  36. I was born in 1991 so I missed all this hooplah. The documentary was a huge eye opener in so many ways!

  37. Jen X says...

    I watched it and it is an excellent documentary. No one is a winner in the OJ saga. The documentary unflinchingly depicts how racism is the root of all bad decisions and injustice for both sides: whites and non-whites.

  38. My husband and I are half way through the documentary, and i can’t stop thinking about it. It’s riveting, enthralling. I remember watching the trial (I was 9) and not really getting all of it, but certainly understood it’s impact on the american household, but never knew the entire story. I’m so glad this has been aired. everyone should watch it.

  39. j. says...

    I have one episode left and am absolutely obsessed! I was 9-10 when the murders and trial happened. I hardly remember it but I do remember gathering in a classroom to listen when the verdict was read. I had NO idea about so many of the details — the street party that happened all over LA during the Bronco chase, how Fuhrman was portrayed, etc. It’s one of the most incredible documentaries I’ve ever seen, and the story really is the story of so much of American culture and how it intersects – race/class/celebrity/the police and the justice system. Everyone should watch it!

  40. Darcy says...

    I am going to go home and find it on ESPN on demand! Did you watch the Court TV 10 episode special a few months ago? I thought that was fascinating as its the behind the scenes of the lawyers during the trial. My hubs and I were glued every week — I can’t wait to tell him about this!

    • Sara says...

      I wasn’t old enough to remember the trial or the car chase, but this documentary was amazing! It’s a must watch. I didn’t want it to end.

  41. I haven’t seen it but I vividly remember the trial, the verdict.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i remember seeing the car chase on the news while playing cards on my friend’s backyard deck in michigan. it was such a shock. i can’t wait to watch the full documentary.