The O.J. Simpson murder trial was a story that resonated with just about anyone who lived through it and one that probably best defined American culture in the 1990s.
Handsome, black football hero is accused of the brutal murder of his pretty, white ex-wife, a crime for which he is subsequently acquitted following a spectacular, high-profile trial. It’s a story that has elements of race and celebrity, two American obsessions.
It’s also at the heart of the five-part “30 for 30” documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” premiering Saturday (June 11), on ABC, and continuing June 14-18 on ESPN.
The miniseries from Peabody- and Emmy-winning director Ezra Edelman (“Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush,” “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals”) uses archival footage and interviews with some of the principles to tell the tale of the personal journey of Orenthal James Simpson, from his childhood in the projects of San Francisco in the 1950s to football stardom in Los Angeles and Buffalo, N.Y., and media stardom in New York City and Hollywood to ultimately the murder trial and acquittal and subsequent conviction on an unrelated robbery charge years later.
That’s set against the backdrop of the racial climate in Los Angeles, a city long torn by racial tensions from the Watts riots of 1965 and the Rodney King case of the early ’90s.
“I think that … what’s lost 20 years later,” Edelman explained to a recent gathering of TV critics in Pasadena, Calif., “is we sort of think there’s this story that took place during this 15-month period, and there was this huge story that took place decades leading up to that that made it that story. I think not understanding that perspective is where I think people retelling the story sort of go wrong.
“There was a history that sort of led up to, in terms of who O.J. was from (not only) a celebrity standpoint but as a black man in America as well as what was happening in the city of Los Angeles that is necessary, fascinating history. And so I think if nothing else, whether there might not be (anything) absolutely new uncovered, I didn’t find some new piece of evidence, because everything was sort of combed over and picked over ad nauseam, I do think that what is hopefully different about this is a total engagement of a narrative that takes place over the course of 40 years and not one.”
Those interviewed include former Los Angeles County prosecutors Marcia Clark and Gil Garcetti, former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman and Simpson friends Al Cowlings and Joe Bell. The documentary marks the first time Clark and Garcetti have agreed to be interviewed about the case since Simpson’s acquittal in 1995. But getting them to participate took some persuading.
“Most people have the philosophy, ‘I lived through this. I want it to go away,’ ” Edelman says. “I think that in some ways we really had to sort of convince her through the fact that we did know what we were talking about. We have done our homework. We don’t have an agenda, that I’m just trying to get the story right and that this is something that is sort of we’re taking a big swing in this, and it’s going to be a real story. And I think she was convinced at the way that we approached the story for her to sit down and talk … .”