The Sometimes-Startling Politics of ‘O.J.: Made in America’
The O.J. Simpson affair to some seems like the last gasp of a dying age, a wild reality show before we understood such a term, a pre-9/11 time when we could obsess about celebrity and gossip and piffle because the economy was humming and we weren't at war and Donald Trump had just married Marla Maples. It was also a story we experienced solely through cable news, another anachronism; imagine what Twitter would have done with Mark Fuhrman. But the story isn't a relic: There's clearly an unquenchable thirst for more on the topic, as evidenced by Ryan Murphy's miniseries The People Vs. OJ Simpson and, especially, ESPN Films' O.J.: Made In America, the forthcoming eight-and-a-half-hour epic documentary that's already a leading Oscar contender. The Simpson tale touches on many of the pressing issues of today, from race and class to media obsessiveness to Americans' increasing inability to simply take a step back and see the people who disagree with them as, well, people. It turns out that the trial is as relevant, if not more relevant, today as it was back then; the trial was about a lot more than we realized in 1994. If the trial took place today, we'd still be talking about the same things. We'd have more venues in which talk about them, too.
In the 11th episode of Bloomberg Politics' Culture Caucus podcast, we discuss OJ: Made in America, its gargantuan scope, its sometimes-startling politics (one of its primary arguments is that Simpson's acquittal was in fact a major civil-rights victory) and its overarching empathy for everyone involved in the imbroglio, even more than 20 years later. We talk about how urgent the film feels, how much better we understand the motivations of everyone involved—and the cultural environment that fostered the madhouse—and how, in some ways, we now are better equipped to discuss the larger issues of the case than we were in the '90s. But mostly: We simply marvel at the achievement of a staggering documentary.
In the second half of the podcast, we are delighted to have as our guest Ezra Edelman, the director of the documentary. He talks about how he never had much interest in Simpson before taking on the project, how he talked a major media company into giving him an eight-and-a-half-hour canvas to work with, and what the case has to say about the way we live now. And he somehow remains humble, even after we spend 45 minutes telling him how great his movie is.
The show airs in five parts, on ABC, starting on Friday, June 11. This is your primer. Enjoy! You can e-mail us about it at email@example.com. Come say howdy!