You’ve likely already heard a great deal about the upcoming ESPN “30 for 30” documentary on O.J. Simpson. For weeks, national newspapers and magazines have called the five-part, nearly eight-hour series “mind-blowing,” “unflinching” and “a masterpiece.” And based on watching just the first two parts – roughly the first three hours – I throw my lot in with the crowd.
“O.J.: Made in America,” which debuts Saturday at 9 p.m. on ABC and then moves to ESPN next week for the next four parts, is about much more than the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, or the trial and media hysteria that followed. Ezra Edelman’s documentary provides a thorough sociological context for both the creation of Simpson’s celebrity and ego, and the history of racial dynamics specific to Los Angeles and its police force, which contributed to Simpson’s acquittal.
The first part begins by examining the migration of African Americans to Los Angeles and their long history of clashes with a police force seen to be racist and merciless. That brutal history is contrasted with Simpson’s time at the nearly all-white University of Southern California in the heart of the city, enjoying his celebrity and the adoration of students and the media.
At USC, Simpson – then married to high school sweetheart Marguerite Whitley – was “seduced by white society,” says childhood friend Joe Bell. And it was while at USC that Simpson infamously told Harry Edwards, who organized black athletes’ 1968 Olympics boycott, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
The documentary proceeds from that foundation through Simpson’s NFL career in Buffalo, his move to Hollywood and the first time he met Nicole Brown.
Part two dives into the L.A. Riots, Simpson’s courting of white corporate America, and finally, his multiple terrifying instances of domestic violence against Nicole.
The final parts, of course, deal with the murder, the trial and the aftermath – including Simpson’s exile to Florida and his crazy involvement in a burglary in Las Vegas that finally landed him in prison.
Even if you’ve already watched Ryan Murphy’s excellent FX series “American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson” (which marathons on FX Saturday starting at 2 p.m.) – and you definitely should – Edelman’s documentary has much more to say.
Through archival footage and exhaustive interviews with friends, teammates, investigators, attorneys (on both sides of the trial), writers and family members of the deceased, Edelman allows us to truly understand O.J. Simpson, maybe for the first time; how he was built, what he is made of. It also tells us a great deal about ourselves.
Watch ‘O.J.: Made in America’
Part 1: Saturday at 9 p.m. on ABC; Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN
Part 2: Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ESPN; Wednesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN
Part 3: Wednesday at 9 p.m. on ESPN; Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPN
Part 4: Friday at 9 p.m. on ESPN; Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN
Part 5: Saturday at 9 p.m. on ESPN