Orenthal James Simpson always seemed a singular figure. Hardly anybody got where he got or did what he did. Certainly nobody got away with it. But
The O.J. image is distinguished by degree. The reach and intensity of his fame
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
True crime in long form is the prevailing fashion. And while it won’t do to belabor a comparison between Made in America and last December's Netflix series Making a Murderer — the programs share little besides length and single-mindedness — there is a pointed resemblance: Both are afforded generosity by their scope. It’s more than three hours before Made in America arrives at the condo on Bundy Drive in California, where in the middle of the night of June 12th, 1994, Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered. Those three hours are put to intelligent, rewarding use. We’re plunged into the realm of college football — of O.J.’s precocity and gathering renown. We’re returned to history-making plays and the galactic leap into the national league. We’re whisked back exhilaratingly to the triumph of O.J.’s world-record 2,000th yard.
And we’re re-familiarized with — or introduced to — the backdrop against which O.J.’s star would rise. The Watts riots, Black Power, Muhammed Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith: The ever-beloved young O.J., Made in America observes, strove to distance himself from the revolutionary sentiment of the late 1960s. His friends and confidants from the period testify that O.J. didn’t want to be thought of as “black.” “You think of Willie Mays as black,” O.J. wrote in a letter at the time. “But not Bill Cosby.” He aspired to the model of the latter.
Made in America proposes that O.J. succeeded: He was regarded in his celebrity as something like white. That aspiration was only abandoned — painfully — when his liberty depended on it. Eulia Love, Latasha Harlins and (especially) Rodney King rent Los Angeles asunder. It isn’t novel to suggest that the O.J. trial, in the wake of these injustices, had everything to do with race — that the trial became a referendum on the Los Angeles Police Department, on race relations in the city, on whether justice was possible for a black man in America. (A case likewise made, quite recently, by FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson.) Made in America takes the argument further still: O.J. had made himself white on his way up. He was made black again in court. The man became an emblem of discrimination in order for his legal victory to be symbolic.
Little here is conceived as