Director Ezra Edelman meticulously pieces together home movies, football footage, interviews and even never-seen-before photos of the Brown-Goldman murder scene to craft the story of Simpson’s ascent to a stadium status American icon, and his shocking descent into infamy and finally, incarceration.
I thought I was all OJ’d out after FX’s mesmerizing 10-part series American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson earlier this year. But nope, ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary: OJ Simpson: Made in America is riveting TV. Nearly 22 years after Simpson was charged with killing his second wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman, his story is as fascinating as ever. In a 5-part series spanning nearly 8 hours in run time, director Ezra Edelman meticulously pieces together home movies, football footage, interviews, TV commercials, movie clips, trial coverage, diary entries, and even never-seen-before photos of the Brown-Goldman murder scene to craft the story of Simpson’s ascent to a stadium status American icon, and his shocking descent into infamy and finally, incarceration.
Here are the 10 Most Compelling Moments about Made in America so far (in no particular order):
1. Carl Douglas for President
Defense Attorney Carl Douglas is TV gold without even trying. He is undoubtedly a legal mastermind, having learned from the best: Johnnie Cochran. But he might have been a great comedian too. Douglas is at his best telling the backstory to staging Rockingham, Simpson’s estate. With jurors set to visit the estate, the defense team, along with Simpson’s agent, replaced some of Simpson’s photos with his white friends with pictures of Simpson and black people. They thought the imagery would resonate better with the predominately Black jury. “If we had, had a Latin jury, we would have a picture of him in a sombrero,” Douglas says. “There would have been a mariachi band out front. We would have had a piñata at the upper staircase.”
2. Fred Levinson is Horrible
If Carl Douglas is the best part of the documentary, Fred Levinson, the director of Simpson’s iconic Hertz commercials, is the worst. Exhibit A: In describing why Simpson was the best choice for the rental car ads, he says, “He’s African, but he’s a good looking man.” Um. Is it rare to be both black and attractive? Psychology Today. Is that you? Levinson continues, “He almost had white features. He wasn’t the typical Black look, African look.” Um, Levinson, you mean OJ with the pillowy lips, the “James Evans” nose and the afro? One of the blackest looking black men I’ve ever seen look black, doesn’t look black? Huh?
Of Simpson’s trial, Levinson comments: “all of the sudden [OJ] became Black. He threw off the cape and now he’s one of them.” Wait… What?
3. OJ Was A Lost Cause
When 96 million Americans, including my parents, tuned in to watch the infamous Bronco “accompaniment” as one commenter called it, I looked at my dad and asked, “who is OJ Simpson?”
I was 13 when Simpson was arrested. He retired from football the year I was born. And long before that, he’d been known to declare such insane things as, “I’m not Black, I’m OJ” and when asked about the Civil Rights Movement in a TV interview, he stated, “I’m not too well enlightened on the situation.” Seriously? When Muhammed Ali invited Simpson to the “Ali Summit” in ’67 where top black athletes lent their support to Ali who had refused to fight in Vietnam, Simpson declined.
Actions such as these led nearly every Black person, including a childhood friend, interviewed for the documentary to declare Simpson was “lost”. Said the friend: he was “seduced by white society”. And that’s probably why his name never came up in conversation, at least not with my daddy who kept an iron Black Power fist on the coffee table in our family room.
4. The Insanely Racist History of the LAPD
One popular theory of why a predominately black jury found Simpson “not guilty” was that the verdict was payback for the acquittal of the four officers who were videotaped mercilessly beating Rodney King. (One juror explicitly says her “not guilty” vote was payback for what happened to King.) But there were sooooo many more problems with the LAPD before the King verdict that Black jurors were rightfully mad about.
There was the case of Eula Love, a widow, who was shot eight times by two LAPD officers in a dispute over a gas bill. She died on her front lawn. The officers were not charged. Then there was the case of Latasha Harlins, a black teenager who was shot in the back of the head by a Korean grocer in a dispute over orange juice. A jury found the grocer guilty of manslaughter, and recommended jail time. The judge overrode their decision and gave her five years of probation and 400 community service hours. And because that isn’t enough, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates aka The Bull O’Connor of the West, says wild things like Hispanics don’t advance in the LAPD because they’re “lazy”. In response to criticism that Black men were being injured from chokeholds, Gates said it was because blacks don’t respond to police like “normal” people. The quote was so popular that police officers began to refer to squad cars as “black and normals”. The officers who beat King were acquitted after all that.
5. Simpson’s First Wife Was Gorgeous
Not a lot is known of Marguerite Whitley, who Simpson married in 1967 when he was a junior in college. The couple had three children, including a toddler who drowned in 1979. Made in America includes pictures of Whitley— and her magnificent ‘fro— but she has maybe two lines of dialogue in the whole film. She spends them describing how awesome her husband is. Whitley and Simpson divorced in 1979, two years after he began dating Nicole Brown, who would become his second wife.
6. Simpson Got “Forceful” with Brown on Their First Date
Simpson was having lunch at The Daisy, a popular LA restaurant for celebs, when he met Brown, an 18-year-old waitress, who had just graduated from high school. Upon seeing her, Simpson declared, “I’m gonna marry that girl”, despite being currently married. His friends didn’t think all that much of the statement as Simpson was known as an “incorrigible womanizer”. After her first date with Simpson, Brown returned to a friend’s house at 2AM with ripped jeans, and said Simpson had been “forceful”, but “I think I really like this guy.” Her friend pointed out that he was already married to which Brown repeated, “I think I really like this guy.” When Brown returned to work two days later, Simpson offered her an apartment and a car, which she accepted.
7. Al Cowlings Once Jumped In Front of A Gun for OJ
Al Cowlings aka “AC” was the driver when Simpson fled in the infamous Bronco chase. It’s a ride-or-die move I’ve never understood. I’ve had the same best friend since I was 12. I’m not going to jail for her— or anyone. But Cawlings, whose felony charges for driving the Bronco were dropped because the DA was overwhelmed with the Simpson case, is a different type of bestie. He and Simpson had been friends since high school, and remained friends even after Simpson stole his girlfriend, Marguerite. Yes, the Marguerite who became Mrs. Simpson. Also while in high school, one of Simpson’s friends decided to play a prank on Simpson by pulling a gun on him. He caught up with Simpson while he was hanging out with AC. The friend pulled the gun and AC stepped in front of Simpson, saying, "If you’re gonna shoot OJ, you gotta shoot me first.”
8. Simpson Was A Monster
Made in America includes Nicole Brown’s diary entries. They are horrifying. She describes multiple times where Simpson beat her “for hours” as she crawled on the floor and how he once punched her while they were having sex. A former boyfriend of Brown’s says OJ locked her in closets in hotel rooms. A friend of Brown’s recalls a time when Simpson cheated on Brown while she was pregnant because she “got fat”. There are also long versions of 911 calls and multiple pictures of Brown’s bruised face for multiple beatings by her husband.
9. Never Seen Before Crime Scene Photos
A police detective describes the murders of Brown and her friend, Ron Goldman, as “overkill”. And then to make a point, the screen flashes close up shots of the victims. Brown was nearly decapitated. It’s very gruesome. Whoever killed this pair is demonic.
10. Director Ezra Edelman
Ok, so Edelman isn’t technically in the series, but the Peabody and Emmy-award winning director and his team are the brainchild for this 450 minute mind-melding production that garnered 3.5 million viewers during its debut on ABC. A second airing, followed by the second episode brought in 5 million viewers. Edelman, whose best known for previous documentaries such as Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals and Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush, also happens to be the son of Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Part IV of OJ Simpson: Made in America airs tonight at 9PM ET on ESPN. The complete series is already available to stream on the ESPN app.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.