‘O.J.: Made in America’ Examines the O.J. Simpson We Once Thought We Knew
It might be difficult to remember, but before O.J. Simpson was an alleged murderer, a convicted burglar and a character on American Crime Story, he was a hero. And not just a sports hero. After winning a Heisman Trophy and scoring a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he became a thriving pitchman, TV announcer and film actor. He was an American success story. And, perhaps more important, an African-American success story—before it all came tumbling down.
Filmmaker Ezra Edelman’s seven-and-a-half-hour, five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America is about that O.J. Simpson. It tracks the running back’s rise at the predominately white University of Southern California alongside the growing unrest caused by the institutionalized racism that was devastating African-American communities in Los Angeles right outside the school’s gates. It lays bare his refusal to take part in the Civil Rights Movement with other African-American sports greats like Jim Brown and the late Muhammad Ali—along with his explanation that he wanted to be seen as an athlete, not a “black” athlete. And it shows his undeniable charm.
“Since 1994, O.J.’s been reduced to one line,” Edelman says. “And while that does encapsulate him as a cultural figure, to understand how beloved he was, to understand the shock of his murder trial, you need to engage with who he was before this. And when you look at him from the standpoint of race and identity, you start to see him as the complex figure he was.”
The miniseries premieres on June 11 on ABC before moving to ESPN on Tuesday, June 14 at 9/8c, with subsequent episodes airing on consecutive nights through Saturday, June 18 (excluding Thursday). It was important to Edelman that the series be screened close together, so viewers don’t lose sight of the enormity of Simpson’s story. As such, no stone statue is left unturned, giving ample weight to the sexuality of O.J.’s father, the “pass” the sports media gave O.J. on rumors he abused his wife Nicole, his current incarceration in Nevada for robbery and more.
“I can’t possibly know how people are going to respond to seeing O.J. how he used to be,” Edelman says. “But I do know that, whatever they thought of him before, they will look at him in a different light now.”
O.J.: Made in America, Series Premiere, Saturday, June 11, 9/8c, ABC.