Tuesday, June 06, 2017
O.J.: Made in America
The film is almost eight hours long, but was made in parts. To be eligible for an Oscar it had to be shown theatrically all at once, and I marvel at anyone who sat through the whole thing in one sitting (the rules have since been changed). While the film is excellent, and will be the go-to document on the Simpson trial and race relations in Los Angeles, it is a very disturbing and depressing experience. No matter how liberal or nonracist you are, to watch black people celebrate the acquittal of a murderer who had no interest in black people is painful.
The movie is in five parts. The first is O.J.'s rise to glory. He grew up poor in San Francisco, was recruited to play football at USC (a mostly white school), and won the Heisman Trophy (there is a clip with Howard Cosell telling Simpson he is a person of great character). His pro career with the Buffalo Bills (he hated playing there--who wouldn't?) got off slowly, until he established himself as a superstar by breaking the single-season rushing record in 1973. That part ends when he meets Nicole Brown, a waitress at a trendy club. Before he even knows her, he tells his friends he will marry her.
O.J.'s success as a commercial pitchman was due, and it is frankly spoken, because he was acceptable to white people. He became famous for doing commercials for Hertz rental cars. He was not involved in the civil rights movement in any way, shape, or form. Some blacks called him an Uncle Tom, but O.J. just wanted fame, he was addicted to it. He could turn on the charm, too, which hid an ugly side. He was a womanizer, and a wife-beater.
Part II shows how often Nicole had to call police to their home in Brentwood. He beat her up several times. One of the responding officers was Mark Fuhrman, who found her sobbing in a car with a smashed windshield. She declined to submit a complaint. He told her, "It's your life." Another time Simpson was placed under arrest, but snuck out the back way. The charges went away. Roy Firestone, on ESPN, embarrassed himself by conducting an interview that suggested Nicole was as much to blame for domestic altercations as Simpson. I do hope Firestone is not on television anymore.
Interspliced with all this is the history of racial tension in Los Angeles. There were the Watts riots, the murders of innocent people by police with no justice, and finally the Rodney King incident. With racist chiefs of police, like William Parker and Daryl Gates, black people understandably felt as if they were less than citizens.
Then came June 12th, 1994. Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, a waiter at Mezzaluna who had come to her house to hand back her mother's glasses, were viciously murdered by knife. The evidence was overwhelming against Simpson. His blood was at the scene, there's on his Ford Bronco, and a glove found near by his house, by Mark Fuhrman, had Simpson's, Brown's, and Goldman's blood on it. As Fuhrman stated, that meant those people had to be together, bleeding.
Simpson was ready to turn himself in but led the entire nation on a surreal car chase. The police, in the first mistake of many, did nothing to stop him but merely followed him, probably because he was famous (anyone else would have been boxed off and thrown to the ground, a gun to the back of their head, and handcuffed). It was clear at the time that Simpson realized what he had done, and was ready to kill himself. But then he talked to lawyers, and during a preliminary hearing, pronounced himself, "One hundred percent absolutely not guilty!"
He assembled the finest lawyers money could by, including Johnnie Cochran, well known for defending black victims of police brutality, and the legendary F. Lee Bailey. The televised trial was a soap opera lasting for months, making witnesses like Kato Kaelin famous. But the police and prosecution made many mistakes. The most egregious was that Fuhrman, by all accounts a good cop, had a history of racist statements. The race card (or the credibility card, as the defense called it) was played. The trial became all about Fuhrman.
The jury was predominantly black. They were insulted by the inclusion of Christopher Darden, seeing it simply because he was black. Darden also made a huge mistake by asking Simpson to try on the gloves. Simpson's team realized this would happen, and made sure he stopped taking his arthritis medication, so his hands swelled. There was sloppy handling of evidence. But no one could answer this--why would Fuhrman try to frame O.J., even before he knew if he had an alibi or not?
Simpson was acquitted, and even some of the jury admitted it was payback for Rodney King. What is incredibly sad about this is that it was not a victory for black justice, it was a victory for rich justice. If a white football player had been in the same position, he would have been convicted. What seemed to happen was jury nullification, although with some of the boners by the prosecution, it's not entirely incredible to vote to acquit.
The trial result showed that blacks and whites were as far apart as ever. Before the verdict, 70 percent of whites thought he was guilty, 70 percent of blacks. Many of his close friends and associates knew he was guilty, and Simpson admitted as much to his agent. That agent, after a civil trial that found Simpson liable for the deaths of Brown and Goldman, to the tune of 33 million dollars, took memorabilia in lieu of payment (including his Heisman Trophy). That would lead to the shocking denouement of his story.
Simpson, after the verdict, lived the high life. To avoid creditors, he moved to Miami (you can't lose your house in Florida) and began living with thugs. He acted like a man who could get away with anything. Therefore, when he heard that dealers were selling his memorabilia that he claimed was stolen, he went to Las Vegas and marched into a hotel room with an entourage carrying guns.
The result, with no Cochran, no dream team, and no backing from black leaders, was a 33-year sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping. Carl Douglas, one of the dream team, said anyone else would have gotten a two-year sentence, and this was now payback. Simpson, now close to 70 years old, is still in prison in a remote section of Nevada.
I can only say that from watching the film, that manages to talk to almost everyone involved (Cochran, of course, had died, and the only living person conspicuous by his absence is Darden) is that Simpson did kill Brown and Goldman, that's obvious, and karma is a bitch.
I lived through all of this. I listened with co-workers (all of whom were white) to the verdict being read. When we heard not guilty, we were stunned. My boss said it was just like being punched in the stomach. Seeing this film, and how the defense manipulated the trial (which was their job) shows how the justice system in this country is a joke (they took down all pictures of white people in his house and put up pictures of black people. Douglas said, "If he were a Latino we would have put up pictures of sombreros"). The only message is that justice is for the rich, and the poor, no matter what color, get the shaft.