The People vs. OJ: Entertainment or Exploitating

In June 1994, after having visited Anne Frank’s house, I was napping in a hotel room in Amsterdam during a family vacation and woke up to the images of a white Ford Bronco speeding across the television screen.

In October 1995, I watched with classmates as OJ Simpson was aquitted of the brutal slayings of Ron Goldman and his ex-wife, Nicole. After the verdict,  we spent all of math class discussing how we could not believe OJ had gotten away with killing two people.

At the time, we didn’t use the phrase “celebrity justice” but in retrospect that is certainly what it was or at least how I saw it.

Now,  a little more than two decades later FX has aired a miniseries about the trial. From where I’m sitting, it’s fantastic. It’s got David Schwimmer playing Robert Kardashian and I know it’s a lot to ask for but to have him yell at someone about how “we were on a break” would just be the best thing ever. It has John Travolta playing Robert Shapiro. Cuba Gooding Jr. playing OJ and I also really want him to yell at someone to show him the money. Sarah Paulson is amazing as Marcia Clark. Courtney B. Vance looks eerily similar to Johnnie Cochran and Sterling K. Brown is phenomenal as Christopher Darden.

It has become a thing.

But has it become an exploitative thing?

Or is it entertainment wrapped up in true crime?

Ron Goldman’s family has come out fighting, slamming the series saying that it is not entertainment and instead is pouring salt on old wounds. They have declared it insensitive and that the families were not consulted. Nicole Brown’s sister also slammed the documentary as well as David Schwimmer saying that Schwimmer should have consulted the Brown Family in his research of Robert Kardashian.  Other players that were involved from Kato Kaelin to Mark Furhman have also come out against the movie with Furhman calling it “massaged reality” and Kaelin having issues with how he is being portrayed.

So which is it?

After every episode, many news outlets post fact checks and while no one is disputing how horrific the tragedy was, reading the weekly fact checks seems to point to it being more on the side of entertainment.  It’s a movie.

This movie is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book, The Run of His Life: The People VS OJ Simpson. Toobin gave an interview back  in January to E! News to explain why the Brown and Goldman families were not contacted.   He explains that “the filmmakers here were not journalists, they didn’t go out and interview people.” He also explains that “this is a story, fundamentally, about the lawyers on each side and everyone involved was aware of these two innocent victims. They were treated with respect throughout the process. The murders were not re-enacted, there are no actors portraying them. It’s really about how this phenomenon happened.”

Now, if they had re-enacted the murders, then I could see the point of it being tacky but this series never sought out to be a documentary and I have to agree with the quote. The movie has made it a point to focus more on the lawyers as well as important parts of the case. It’s almost feels like “a ripped from the headlines” episode of Law and Order. We’re digging into another layer of this trial that we may not have known. Back in 1994, there was no TMZ uncovering dirt on Johnnie Cochran or seeing if Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden were more than friends? There was no Twitter so we could not follow any of these lawyers, we just went with what we saw.   This is like giving us the TMZ dirt that we didn’t know back then.

For example, last night was a pivotal episode where OJ tried on those gloves. I so vividly remember watching that on television.  I remember watching OJ trying to fit them on and they didn’t fit. I did not know that the gloves he was trying on were the actual gloves used to commit the crimes which actually makes that scene even more creepy because I distinctly remember thinking at the time that he seemed to be enjoying himself way too much. Learning now, those were the gloves used and he was happily trying them on just seems rather strange and I wonder why the jurors didn’t pick up on that? It was also interesting that Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden were at odds over whether or not to have OJ try them on in the first place. The movie is trying to dig into the other layers of the case which will maybe help us understand the answer to the question that so many of us have had for the last two decades: How did OJ Simpson manage to get away with murder?

That question is trying to be handled as sensitively as it can be without spilling more salt into the wounds.



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