In 1995, a jury decided that O.J. Simpson was not guilty of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a man named Ron Goldman. I was working at Christian Reformed World Missions at the time, and the reaction I remember there was quiet surprise. My knowledge of O.J. was mostly limited to Hertz commercials and a movie role or two. I’d seen bits of the famous slow-motion police chase on TV at an overnight stop while bringing a group of mission kids home from an amusement park. All of this to say, I wasn’t terribly invested in the trial. But as the reactions on the news showed me, I was in the minority.
O.J.: Made in America, an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, was an education for me. The 5-part film explores in detail the events and experiences that led to O.J. Simpson’s singular brand of fame—on the field and off—before he became enmeshed in controversy. The series introduces viewers to an intense man who worked hard to create his image and made a lot of smart career choices. He was charismatic and appealing. He also preferred not be identified by—or with—his ethnicity, at a time when his fellow African-American athletes were pushing for change and his fellow African-American Los Angelenos were suffering long injustice at the hands of the police.
Smart, engaging, and intense, this documentary leaves few stones unturned to understand the bigger picture. Talking to friends, using footage of O.J. himself, and interviewing former prosecutors and defense lawyers, this fascinating and disturbing history shows the universal love that O.J. experienced and profited from prior to the murders as well as the enormous divide that was exposed when the verdict was delivered. The documentary also includes the first public showing of some very graphic murder scene photos. Some viewers may wish to skip over or close their eyes during this portion.
For those of us who did not understand how that “not guilty” verdict came to be, here is a history lesson that opens our eyes. It is timely illumination, as the United States finds itself in a continuing cycle of anger and sorrow over unarmed black men shot by police officers, and police officers killed while trying to do their jobs. The documentary is available on disc now, and it is streaming on ESPN’s website.