The People v OJ Simpson – a review

Photo by Tracy Thomas

This review has been a long time coming – there have been multiple stages at which I’ve though ‘oh damn, gotta do a blog review about American Crime Story’ but I’ve actually held off until I finished the series to comment. And today, I watched episode 10 and therein closed the chapter in my OJ experience.

I think ‘my OJ experience’ is an appropriate way to describe it, as judging from Kris Jenner’s book (aka my holy grail lol) where she discusses the trial, and this series together, I have formed my own OJ experience. Even though I wasn’t even alive when this case occurred, I had vaguely heard of it prior to  the TV show and was aware of how much of a social impact it had. But golly, it really wasn’t until I finished episode 10 today that I realised a) the significance of the trial, and b) what an incredible TV drama ‘The People v OJ Simpson’ is.

***spoilers alert, so please please don’t read this if you haven’t watched it yet and intend on watching it soon!***

Before the series even began, I was excited. I read about the project last year, and given that it was the mind child of Ryan Murphy, I knew we were going to be in for a wild ride. There was much hype surrounding the project, as not only is it difficult portraying real life events in a fictionalised way, but also the sensitivity of the subject. Further, the biggest question I had was “how are they going to position the audience?” Are they going to make me think OJ is guilty or not guilty?

So the show began, and I still had trepidation. Yet honestly, the first episode had me hooked. And so on, until the series concluded. It got to the stage that instead of late night Kardashian binges, I was watching interviews the real Marcia Clark gave. There are many facets in which the show is an absolute hit, and I’ll attempt to deconstruct them a bit.

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This scene (although it never happened in real life) was lowkey my favourite scene – GIPHY.com

Cast 

First off, the casting is amazing. Namely, Sarah Paulson, Sterling Brown and Courtney B Vance who play lead prosecutor Marcia Clark, Chris Darden, and lead defence attorney Johnnie Cochran, are absolutely phenomenal. But for me, it was Sarah Paulson who really blew me away.

Sarah Paulson was quite unbeknowst to me, because American Horror Story was too horrific for my eyes but after her portrayal of Marcia Clark, I am obsessed with her. I think given the fact that the entire universe pretty much realises how much shit Marcia had to go through in the real trial is a testament to Paulson’s acting ability. Not only is it so difficult to cast an actor who bears physical resemblance to someone in real life, but finding someone who can also act – that is true find.

Not only does she deliver the dialogue with the confidence of an experienced prosecutor, you can feel Clark’s passion and hunger for justice. Through her face, the audience is invited into the inside mind of Clark, as Paulson inserts a subtext of Marcia’s emotions, which were very well hidden in the courtroom but obvious to the audience in those camera close ups. We can see how much she is struggling, but her determination to fight. For me, I think Paulson’s finest moments were in episode 6, titled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”. Apart from the final episode, this is the one I was most excited to watch. I had read about the sexist treatment of Clark throughout the trial, but was keen to see how Murphy and co would portray this. And boy oh boy did they not disappoint. After Marcia gets her haircut, you can see her walk with such confidence and a shy sexiness and proudness about her new ‘do. And yet, bigoted Judge Ito crushes her with one, cutting greeting – ‘Morning, Ms Clark. I think.’

The courtroom is littered with laughs, particularly from all the men on the defence. Shapiro is even a prick enough to give her a condescending thumbs up. Paulson said that in filming that scene, Murphy hadn’t actually told her what was going to happen. So the reaction that the audience sees on TV is her authentic reaction.

“The temperature in my neck rose, and I could feel my eyes were burning, my throat was closing, and none of that I prepared to do,” she said.

From this alone, you can see how much of Paulson’s own heart and soul was invested in the role. And this truly shows in her portrayal of Marcia. If she doesn’t get some kind of recognition for her portrayal, I will actually eat someone’s fungus invested foot.

PS – special shout out with Ross Robert Kardashian (David Swimmer) who I think did a spectacular job of being the only one of team OJ who really questioned his innocence, and also John Travolta who I have no idea what the hell he was doing the entire series. Was Robert Shapiro really that annoying in real life? Or is John Travolta’s acting + a weird puffy lip just bizarre?

Victims v heroes 

This is a huge theme that Murphy and co really played off the entire season. Obviously there is the big victim – OJ Simpson. Guilty or not, the American people really couldn’t get their minds off the idea that their beloved hero, OJ Simpson was charged with double homicide. The infatuation with Simpson ran from the jury, to the prison guards, to even Judge Ito, who was criticised for getting caught up in the media frenzy the trial created. The interesting thing is that the show portrays OJ in different lights – and by the time you’re watching the season finale, you have no flipping clue where you stand. Marcia and Chris’s closing statements are so convincing and logical that you have no doubt that he committed the murders. And despite watching the hokus pokus that the defence team screwed around with all season, by the time Johnnie Cochran gives his final statement, you too start questioning OJ’s guilt. Maybe he didn’t do it. Maybe he was just a victim of racial discrimination too. As I said, the show doesn’t portray OJ in a way that he is definitely guilty or definitely innocent. It is successful because it toys with this idea, a continuous back and forth, as not only are you presented with the evidence and legal arguments, but also an emotional attachment to the characters involved.

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IT’S NOT THAT EASY JOHNNIE! – GIPHY.com

And then there’s Johnnie. All season he is somewhat portrayed as the hero, the lawyer in a cape, being OJ’s superman and acquitting him of double homicide. And yet, when we see him in the finale, watching Bill Clinton address the nation about the racial prejudice, and he utters ‘that’s the real victory,’ you can’t help but sympathise with him. You realise that despite him making the biggest acquittal in history, he is also the victim. The victim of discrimination just fighting for his voice to be heard, to pave a better future for his children. Even bigger of a victim than OJ, because he has been fighting for his innocence for years, and so have his parents before him, and his great-grandparents before that. This gives his character a great multi-faceted dimension, as not only is he the hero for OJ and his supporters alike, but he too is a victim, deserving of empathy.

Social context 

And finally, it really makes me wonder what would happen if the crime would have taken place today. In a time where racial tensions are arguably less apparent than 1990’s America.

The audience can clearly see how the race card got played and smacked front and centre onto the page, despite Shapiro’s avid attempts not to. The defence’s argument of the racist LAPD, coupled with Mark Furhman’s horrifically racist tapes spun a narrative that was so believable at the time. The political and social context of the trial were a huge influencing factor, which is disappointing because it is clear to the audience that the trial became less and less about the murders of two innocent people, and more about the racial injustice within society. However, both issues are devastating. Both should be passionately fought for. Unfortunately, all these issues amalgamated in one big melting pot in this case and it became difficult to distinguish who was the victim. Was it Nicole? Was it Ron? Was it OJ? Was it all African Americans in society?

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The show was not afraid to ask the big questions – GIPHY.com

Due to this, this is why the implications and affects of the OJ Simpson trial are still so relevant today. It dealt with so many big issues at the time, that it really is deserving of the name ‘trial of the century’.

American Crime Story has so far been so excellent. TV is often now criticised for being something of ‘low culture’, associated with trashy reality TV and cheap production value. But it is shows like this, that are not afraid to tackle arguably one of the biggest events in history, that suggest TV is on the rise.

-Moy

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