When you hear the name OJ Simpson what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Some may not even know who he is now but for me it was the biggest trial in America. A famous, well-loved black sports hero was accused of murdering his white wife in the 90s. The story was huge and even at my young age I saw it, I heard it and I knew it was about racism.
I watched the documentary OJ: Made in America, there’s been many on him but I don’t think I’ve watched any other in its entirety. This one is one of the most incredible documentaries I’ve seen in a very long time and it’s Oscar-winning. It talks about his life before the lead up to the murder, the trial of the century and after his acquittal. There was a lot I didn’t know about OJ Simpson. It also talks about black America, racism and the history of the race relations between Los Angeles police and the black community which is what made the trial huge and divided the nation.
I’m going to relay the main points from the documentary and my thoughts and opinions on what I’ve watched.
“As a kid growing up in the ghetto one of the things I wanted most was not money, it was fame” – OJ Simpson. Boy, would this turn out to be the biggest blessing & curse of his life.
The documentary starts with him incarcerated in prison, he’s in court talking to the judges about the work he’s been doing in prison.
He was born in San Francisco in 1947. He said he was a hustler from the age of 10. His father was gay and this was a big deal back then for a black man, he never spoke about it. He had aspirations and wanted to better his circumstance due to poverty and living in the ghetto and LA was the place to do that.
Black people had the image there was no prejudice in LA against blacks and many moved there from the deep south from the 1940s to the 60s. The hope was all the trouble they had known will be gone and they will no longer be held down by this notion held against their skin and hair (It’s interesting that even today many black people change their natural hair, It’s been entrenched in their psyche for centuries that ‘looking white’ is superior). Racism was as troubling and stark as it was in the south. You see the history of the ghettos of LA i.e. south central LA and how they were formed and black people still living in them today.
He was a breakout star at American football in the 1960s. He was known for scoring points by running long distances on the field. He was married to a black woman in USC college which was an all white college. He was a very good-looking man, he had that Ali swagger but not an ounce of his principal and people called him one of a kind as an athlete.
He was seduced as a black man in the 60s by white society and his story has been about being a pleasing person to white society. People said he had almost white features and he achieved also because of his looks, it’s a fact people are more accepting of and treat good-looking people better.
The Civil Rights Movement
The civil rights were occurring during the 60s. Segregation, racism, black people had no power, there was police brutality against blacks. The police head was known to have recruited officers from KKK rallies. There were riots in black areas due to police killings and OJ made white America feel good about black people at the time of unrest unlike the black angry sports stars who were going to revolutionise.
During the 60s societal issues were pushing their way into sports. Major athletes stood up against going to the Vietnam war, Muhammad Ali was one of them. They stood up for principal and it was to hell with the consequences. It damaged their commercial possibilities. Black athletes boycotted the Olympics in 68 due to discrimination. OJ was approached because he was the biggest name in college athletics, he was also a world record holding track star and his response was I’m not black, I’m OJ. Black athletes were concerned with black people first and sports second unlike OJ.
The documentary shoots back and forth between OJ’s life in white America and the contrasting brutality and injustice of black America in poverty. It is a juxtaposition and visually, historically and contextually It’s brilliant. It relays the history of racism and why it has led to where people are at.
He played professional American football and became the first black man to be a national spokesperson and get a product endorsement. This was ground breaking for a black man and an athlete because product endorsements for athletes were non-existent. OJ was that one black person on the brochure of a fancy university. He got in, but boy did he have to do a lot to be accepted.
This was another reason a lot of the athletes stood up against injustice because they didn’t have to worry about losing money, their endorsements or legal ramifications from companies. They were free in a way, unlike today where people will think twice whether it will affect their endorsements before speaking out.
OJ opened doors with endorsements to the black community with TV adverts, he was a pioneer. OJ left football to become an actor. He transitioned well from a sports star to a TV star. Many today do not do that successfully even though It’s become the norm.
His family life was failing with his first wife whilst he enjoyed fame. He met Nicole Brown and instantly liked her, he had an affair and ended up divorcing his wife and marrying Nicole.
Nicole Brown Simpson
He and Nicole were seen as a beautiful, happy, fun couple. Image is everything in his world, he created his career off of being a like able black man.
He was a womanizer and was having affairs. He was physically abusing her for years, she called the police multiple times and said he’s going to kill me. There were two OJ’s, the one he was portraying, a very charming man and the controlling wife beater.
She had an affair as well with someone OJ was friends with and this really bothered him. He was a very jealous, insecure man even though he had many multiple affairs and national adoration, he became very entitled, everyone had put him on a pedal stool.
Her friend said “I think there was something about her that was almost unattainable to him, something he couldn’t quite control and it was part of the attraction”, this could be a metaphor for white America. She ultimately paid the price.
Did he take out his indignation’s on his wife? He put on a charming mask with the rest of the world. Did she see the real him? He loved her for sure but she didn’t accept his adultery and maybe he expected her to because of the way he got treated by everyone else because hey, he’s OJ.
She took the abuse for a while and then finally had enough of wanting and hoping he would change, she knew he wouldn’t.
The police issues with the black community were still bad and white people were oblivious. The infamous case of Rodney King in 91, a black man beaten by police officers with batons was filmed. The media didn’t give LAPD a break and showed the video repeatedly internationally. It was an exhibit for every abuse case cops had done. How will the police justify this one? How will they get out of this one? The officers went to trial, the trial was moved to a white area and the jury found them not guilty and it enraged the black community, it caused riots.
What has changed between the black community and the police in the US today? We see black people being shot and killed live on social media and there is no accountability. Police brutality is happening in the UK Babar Ahmad and Mark Duggan are examples. There is a systematic inherent racism within the police that is still continuing.
What’s interesting is that some of the former police officers being interviewed in the documentary still justify racist and abusive actions. It’s quite sick, these former cops are really in denial or deluded about racism within themselves and the LAPD. The remnant of racism still resides in people today, who not too long ago supported segregation. They hold positions of influence with the same ideologies.
OJ knew the indignities of the black community and chose to not speak on it and ignore it. People said he had a facade when in the white world and didn’t amongst blacks. He was a black man trying to fit in to rich racist white America all the while he had forsaken his own people.
He didn’t want to be seen as black but as OJ and for the contents of his character. What he said is correct but what didn’t match up was that he erased the black part of his character to appease white people and it definitely had a negative effect on him. He was accepted because he changed himself to fit in. He’s a smart man, he knew at that time that’s what he had to do to get the success he wanted. His life was different to black America and he was treated differently to black America.
The murder of Nicole Brown Simpson
Nicole was murdered along with another man, Ron Goldman. They were stabbed to death outside her house in an affluent area. It was a gruesome, bloody murder and the worlds media went hysterical.
OJ was accused of the murders and was treated with privilege by the police because of the pedal stool white America had put him on, he wasn’t even arrested but asked to surrender himself and he went on the run in a live televised car chase. I remember seeing this and the absolute hysteria and excitement from everyone watching, it was so surreal. Crowds had taken to the street and black people were supporting him, chanting ‘free OJ’ and holding posters.
He had reached the top of the mountain in his life and has had the most epic fall from grace. People called him an American tragedy and his life is more fascinating then fiction, It’s more than your brain can take in comprehend and digest.
He eventually gave himself in and was arrested and charged with the murders and it was the trial of the century.
Part 2 – The trial of the century read here.