My first thought upon finishing OJ: Made In America is that-as an aesthetic work of art-it could not have been made in the 80’s or 90’s. It could not have been made the crossover obsessed time when OJ Simpson was beloved because it would have been seen as too long, too dark and too cognitive and sub-textual to be seen as pop black art. It could not have been made in the racially polarizing 90’s that the Simpson trial defined because-as a director-Ezra Edleman refused to pick a flat polemical angle. It only could have been made now-in an era where so many writers and artists are pushing the envelope in regards to works that are introspective, complex, and brutally honest. I never saw a sports documentary that made me think of Dostoevsky before, but the way Edleman let 72 people tell their stories( and how a unbelievably complex story came from them) made his name pop up in my brain several times.
For the record: I knew OJ wasn’t shit before I was in middle school. My grandmother, grandfather and Uncles were proud black people who liked athletes proud of themselves. My mother and aunts were proud feminists who were voracious readers of newspapers and current events magazines. I remember my Aunt Pat ranting about him, pointing the the People magazine article that talked about his arrest and saying ” I told you he was a bum!”
As for the trial? I thought the LAPD tried to frame the guiltiest nigga I have ever seen; and Johnnie Cochran played off everything they horrendously bungled. I understood the emotion regarding “the black man getting over for once” but It got to a point where it just fit into the mosaic of the black leftist politics of the time that had no use for me or anyone who loved me. (Farrakhan, James Brown, Tyson, Marion Barry, Crown Heights riots, and nobody really calling Jesse on his shit for his “hymietown” remark. )
And it also bothered me in this aspect: in the subtext of ” Yayyyyy the black man got off for once” was ” Yayyyyyy we can be just as corrupt and venal as the white man”. And I didn’t want to be the white man. I wanted to be BETTER than the white man. I wanted to be my own man.
It isn’t for everybody: I did look away when Edleman showed the murder pictures, but I came out of it not angry that he put them there . He did so because it made glib people who thought this was a celebrity game see that people died because of this. He was forcing OJ stans and people who saw the trial as pop cultural entertainment to deal with the fact two people had lost their lives.
I thought I would hate the documentary and tap out from watching it. Almost everything created about OJ Simpson bores me out of my skull. I left thinking it was the best documentary I have ever seen; and it was so because it was an aesthetic repudiation of everything that the OJ era symbolized.