Seven hours and forty-three minutes. That’s how long director Ezra Edelman managed to keep the audience at the initial screening of his latest documentary glued to their seats. “O.J.: Made in America” provides a look back at the famous double homicide trial surrounding American football star O.J. Simpson and the polarized state of the US at the time.
The question that Edelman poses to audiences was not whether the lovable O.J. Simpson killed his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Rather, he questions how the O.J. Simpson trial was part of a larger, tragic story regarding race and identity in America?
Talking with the Guardian, Edelman stated that many felt that it was time to finally discuss what had happened that hot summer in 1994.
“This isn’t just about the murder and the trial,” he told the Guardian. “It is inclusive of this history and context that goes back 30, 40 years. You’ll find we’ve thought about this, and we’re doing it in a very sober way.”
In another article in the New York Times, Edelman said that he “was interested in the 30 years before the murders, the city, race and identity, and the juxtaposition with O.J.’s story.” “This is a big American studies paper,” he told NYT. “This touches on everything in our culture. I wanted to tell that.”
The city he references is a troubled 1980s version of Los Angeles. Fueled by the brutality towards three young African Americans, the Black community of L.A. raged for Simpson to be free. While on the other side of the aisle, another portion of the city felt that O.J. Simpson was guilty.
The police beating of Rodney King, the murder of Latasha Harlins, the death of Eula Love and the idea that Simpson distanced himself from the black community are key events to understanding Simpson’s trial and its context in American media and race relations.
Despite the fact that Simpson was not able to be interviewed for the film – as he is currently in prison serving a sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping – viewers get the impression that Simpson is almost telling you his story through all the interviews Edelman conducted.
This sobering story ended up winning him an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Washington Post said it was “It is nothing short of a towering achievement.” and continued to say “…white viewers may well experience a new enlightenment and come to a deeper understanding of this moment of jubilation in black America. And black viewers may well see something hollow in all the jumping for joy.”
Edelman joked around to The Hollywood Reporter, “I felt the energy of the audience watching it. When the screening was over, the crowd lingered. It wasn’t like, ‘F— you. You kept us in a room for eight hours…It was, ‘Let’s now talk about this.'” The group spent another 90 minutes debating the film. “All right,” thought Edelman, “maybe we have something here.”
Watch the trailer here