The Trial of the Century: a Crime Committed by America
Current society has an interest in getting the juiciest bits of obscure murder cases, and pop culture production is obssesed with fulfiling this need by getting them out to the public in a snackable format. 22 years later, an FX drama debuts hand in hand with our celebrity media complex, but does it so in a way that forces America to be face to face with its own shameful reality. It shows how the country metabolized the events during the summer of 1994 and whitewashed a crime because of its own history on race and pain.
The People v OJ Simpson is an anthological series based on a 90’s story that its screenwriter decided to bring back to public attention. Ryan Murphy wrote the short series based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson (1997) that told the true crime story that happened back in 1994. The series performs very well in providing context on the racial conflict. Los Angeles police were being besieged with accusations of racism when the crime took place and O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) was arrested. A black athlete was being accused by white policemen, ergo, it was impossible not to look at the elephant in the room.
This is a national morality play. It played out similarly, in the media and collective consciousness of the people witnessing the trial, to other cases in which a black man is accused of aggression against a white woman. This social drama focuses on the false antagonism of two different fights: racism/ white supremacy v. gender violence/patriarchy. When this social, and sadly regular, circus takes place, these two do not seem to be able to peacefully coexist in the minds of the population. People seem to have a lingering non productive inner debate on which the main question is “Which is the bigger societal problem?” But, do Africanamerican people and women have drastically opposing interests? Are their interests unavoidably in conflict? 27 years later it does not feel racist to question the innocence of Simpson, and it should not feel antifeminist to question the trial of a black man believing that the proceedings were carried out with racist bias (evidence based).
The series implicitly shows the issue of gender violence and masculin role models. Public figures are often regarded as “good men’’ for whom such accusations would be impossible to believe. To portray that role models can also rape and murder is an effort that is highly welcomed and long overdue in Hollywood. The revival of this case has brought to light the discussion about the hazards of placing sports heroes on pedestals.
OJ success was God’s own arm around which black sporting manhood revolved. During his career, people believed that inside of him there was a man struggling to get the respect he deserved. He thrived in highly competitive places despite his humble beginnings, and it is acceptable to be proud of it because racism still scars most black people’s lives. I understand Africanamerican people are face to face with a complex dilemma on Simpson and the black male image. However, he might have not been found guilty of murder, but he was found guilty of being a regular wife-beater. OJ represents hypocrisy, misogyny and appalling brutality. He is not a shining example for men; he is a dreadful role model.
Simpson’s murder trial screenplay also intended to trigger a current balance exercise on how the country’s view of domestic violence shifted from a largely private matter to a public health concern. As the trial unfolded, calls to hotlines, shelters and police exploded. The trial and subsequent doubts on the sentence started the conversation on crime, gender violence, sexism, race and media. Not all cases resulted in acquittal back in the day. Mike Tyson was convicted on the rape charge on February 10, 1992 and is registered as a sexual offender in a case that has many resemblances to this one. But activism and visibility have made these times better times.
The series actively achieves to comply with the emotional expectations of different viewpoints. Those who believe Simpson should have gone to jail will get what they want, and so will those who believe he is innocent. The production artfully portrays the part and the counterpart without bias warps and sheds light on a rampant American dilemma that lingers to this day.