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