“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” White Ford Bronco (not the band). The Kardashians.
These concepts and phrases are a part of our popular culture and our vernacular today. Even though I was only 2 in 1994, I connect with these phrases on many different levels. Before 1994, however, these were simply random words strung together’ they had no meaning and little importance. Just like the assassination of JFK, 9/11, and The Financial Crisis of 2008 signaled the end of certain eras and the beginning of others, so too did the trial of O.J. (The Juice) Simpson.
It was a watershed moment in American criminal justice history and American pop culture. Ryan Murphy (the producer of Glee, Scream Queens, and American Horror Story) has, once again, created a cultural phenomenon in his dramatic portrayal of the personalities involved in “the trial of the century.” However, after taking in the spectacle of the first episode, I came away with a glaring realization: this story is not about whether or not O.J. is guilty. Obviously, that has been the prevailing issue coming out of the trial, fiercely debated, even today. In the lead up to the series, basically all of the main cast were asked, in some way, whether or not they think O.J. actually killed his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. To me, that really is not a compelling question nor important to why this trial matters. It has to do with much larger issues, issues that were not solved by this case.
In the teaser trailer of the series, one line really stuck out to me, “I’m not black, I’m O.J!” Cube Gooding Jr, completely inhabiting the persona of Simpson, passionately screams this line as he and his legal team try to mount a defense that will acquit him. It was only in the trailer for a moment, but it begets a major underlying issue in this case: would we care if O.J. wasn’t black? To offer some context, the series opens with a montage of the famous LA Race Riots. These riots were the amalgamation of years of bloody discrimination and violence at the hands of the LAPD against black citizens. Sound familiar? These riots captivated the nation and made people question the justice system in terms of minorities. These events happened a full two years before the O.J. trial; however, this opening scene sets the stage for everything that will happening moving forward.
I, personally, had no idea how important race was to the trial. The scenes from the next episode shows that almost the entire defense would hinge upon the fact that the police are going after him because he was black. This might have been their defense, but the black population of the time is pretty split on that notion. O.J. clearly believed himself above race and most blacks were willing to allow him to stay up there. In another scene from the following episode, two black families are grilling in their backyard and one man says to the other that O.J. believed that he was actually white. The other man, laughing, said that O.J. was being chased by the cops so he probably feels black now. These questions of whether or not O.J. is black enough and whether or not he is getting a fair trial due to the color of his skin are ones that have been made quite prescient by the recent police brutality cases and true crime show obsessions. Clearly, we are still grappling with these issues today.
In a pivotal scene, Marcia Clarke (Sarah Paulson), DA and lead prosecutor on the case, runs through the litany of domestic violence claims made against O.J. by Nicole Brown Simpson. She was shocked and appalled that, just because O.J. was famous, he was allowed to continue beating his wife. “The system failed her [Nicole Brown Simpson],” Clarke laments. Simpson had brutally assaulted his wife on numerous occasions and no one said anything about it. During Nicole’s funeral scene, Faye Resnick (Connie Britton) and Kris Jenner (Selma Blair), gossip that they saw Nicole’s bruised face and they witnessed O.J.’s temper. However, it was uncomfortable for them to intervene. So many people experience this when confronted with a friend that has been abused and so many abused feel frightened to make their voices heard. Hopefully, this show will push more victims to step forward and more allies to offer a support system to them.
That last point connects with a concept that has great import. Throughout the episode, we are treated to glimpses within O.J.’s opulent world, most importantly, the statue of himself standing as a monument in his own backyard. If you didn’t know O.J. loved himself, now you do know and that was the point. However, throughout the episode we are hit over the head with instances of favor given to O.J. because he is O.J., The Juice. The police allow him to bring himself in instead of picking him up in handcuffs and treating him to a perp walk into the station; this gives him the opening to take off in the white Ford Bronco in the first place. Even one of the prosecutors says that he can’t believe O.J. did this because he was so nice when they had met at an event. The fact that simply being famous could keep a person out of jail is absurd to me, especially when the DNA evidence was solidly against that individual. It is a known fact that celebrities are treated differently in terms of the law; however, justice is supposed to be blind. I can only hope that we can move forward to a place that deploys the law against all offenders with the same alacrity and zeal and not simply the impoverished and uneducated.
Can we even remember a time when we couldn’t see news 24 hours a day and 7 days a week? Well, there was once a time when the only way you could find out what was going on in the world was in the morning newspaper and between the hours of 6:00 and 7:00 pm. News was not all-encompassing and not all-day. However, that all changed when, for hours, news outlets around the country and the world followed the car chase of a white Ford Bronco down a highway. This event was the first time a news story had round-the-clock coverage and birthed a new type of media on the small screen: sensationalism. This type of news, basically the E! News of that era, had been around for generations, but held in black and white on newspaper pages. Now, they were in color and moving across the screen. Even Anchorman 2 parodied the coverage of this event, making fun of the fact that anchors would literally sit and give voice over to a car chase. It lasted for hours and people could not get enough. It changed the way we digest our media and how news anchors cover certain events like this, for better or worse.
I could go on and on, but the point is that none of these concepts has anything to do with whether or not O.J. killed his ex-wife. That one issue, hotly debated all of these years, falls flat when you take into account all of these other aspects of the case that we are still dealing with today. If this is everything that I took away from the first episode, I cannot wait to see what Ryan Murphy and co. have in store for the rest of the season.