OJ: Made in America is the Best Sports Documentary Ever
Better than Ken Burn's Baseball, better than Hoop Dreams...even better than Beyond the Mat.
It's about so much more than OJ Simpson, his crimes and his career. It sheds light on the sad dynamic between African-Americans and the LAPD for the past 50 years and also on America's peculiar love affair with sports and celebrities and ESPECIALLY sports celebrities. And, the stuff about the trial is jaw-dropping: illuminative of established fact and also full of stunning information that is completely new, at least to me.
Here are some of the most mind-blowing moments from Ezra Edelman's groundbreaking film.
1.) Some of the Jurors Straight up Admit that OJ Walked as Payback for Rodney King.
Juror #9, Cassie Bess comes off looking as bad or worse than any of the other OJ trial players. And that's saying something considering the menagerie of egomaniacs, liars and hustlers on display here.
Cassie Bess seems like, and I'm sure is, a sweet little old lady. But she earns her spot here by her unabashed callousness toward the victims and her disregard for justice.
First, in one of the most disgusting examples of victim-blaming I've ever seen, she talks about the tapes that were played in which you can hear Nicole screaming, you can hear OJ yelling and you can hear actual punches landing. Cassie Bess's takeaway from that? "I lose respect for any woman who takes an ass whooping when she don't have to." I guess by that logic Juror #9 must have lost ALL respect for a woman who takes a fatal stabbing when she doesn't have to.
Later, Cassie Bess confirms what many have suspected when she says OJ's innocent verdict was "payback for Rodney King". Just...wow.
2.) The LAPD Deserved Their Bad Reputation
Edelman presents ample evidence that the LAPD had a history of excessive violence, unfairness to minorities and corruption. Oh yes....AND incompetence.
As much as Mark Fuhrman was a weak link because of his racism, Detective Tom Lange doesn't even seem to be aware of what a bungler he was. If the situation weren't so sad it would be comical as Lange brags about how ingenious he and his partner Phil Vannatter were in the handling of the investigation while clips of Marcia Clarke are edited in describing what a bungler Lange was. It makes you feel like Detectives Blartt and Fife would have been more competent.
3.) Johnnie Cochran and the Dream Team were Reprehensible
If you're a defense attorney, your obligation and your duty is to do everything within the law to vigorously defend your client. Seeing Cochran and his team work make you feel dirty knowing that America's vaunted legal system is so rotten with deception, cynicism and manipulation. From F. Lee Bailey admitting that he goaded Chris Darden into asking OJ to try on the glove by questioning the size of his testicles to the character assassination that was perpetrated on good, honest witnesses I'm convinced there's some special corner of hell for lawyers of such low moral character.
Johnnie Cochran died in 2005 but his legacy lives on in attorney Carl Douglas. In my mind, no one in this documentary, with the possible exception of OJ himself, is as reprehensible as this man. Douglas is interviewed extensively in OJ: Made in America. He REVELS at the thought of destroying people's reputations for someone he knows is a murderer (and I'm not just talking about violent racists like Mark Fuhrman...see Ron Shipp, below). He talks about the caper he and the Cochran firm pulled when they replaced OJ's actual framed photographs of his almost exclusively white family and friends with pictures of black people. He tells of placing a framed lithograph of Norman Rockwell's painting of a little African-American girl being escorted past a racist mob to her first day of school at the top of OJ's staircase. A lithograph that had been taken from Johnnie Cochran's office (and, presumably, returned the very next day).
When Clarke objected to Judge Ito about this ruse, Douglas goes into full mock-outrage pantomime. "Why, judge, we would NEVER do such a THING! We're SHOCKED...SCHOCKED!!...that anyone would accuse us..." Later, Douglas confides that if the jurors had been latinos "We would have had pictures of OJ in a sombrero!" and "We would have had a mariachi band there". Despicably racist then and despicably racist now.
4.) My Favorite Person was Ron Shipp.
Ron Shipp's name may not ring as familiar as Kato Kaelin or Mark Fuhrman but after seeing this documentary, I feel like Mr. Shipp is one of the few people that come off looking like a person of genuine conscience. I think he was also kind of heroic. Ron Shipp had known and admired OJ since he was a teenager. He ended up as a LAPD officer and one of OJ's closest friends. He helped when OJ told him he and Nicole had "a spat" and it needed smoothing over. You can tell that Ron Shipp loved OJ Simpson and probably does to this day.
Because of their close relationship, Shipp was not going to testify against OJ even though he had knowledge of OJ and Nicole's violent history. But, he says he was called in to Chris Darden's office and he went through some of the crime scene photos. At this point in the documentary, Mr. Shipp becomes very emotional, crying, in fact. He's moved by the horrific nature of the attacks and decides to testify against this man he loves.
How is his brave act of conscience repaid by Cochran, Douglas and their rogue's gallery of character assassins?
"Mr. Shipp, isn't it true that you used to have a drinking problem? Isn't it true that you were a womanizer? Isn't it true that you told someone 'If it wasn't for OJ, I think I'D have a shot with Nicole?'"
Ron Shipp didn't deserve that and it's why so many people won't testify in court when they know it's the right thing to do. There are too many thugs in expensive suits who would be happy to make you suffer for your honesty.
5.) OJ's Agent Says OJ Told Him What Happened
Mike Gilbert. Here's a real piece of work. He thought OJ did it. But he was happy to help him sell autographs from his LA jail cell. He says that he was the one who told OJ to stop taking his arthritis medication so his hands would swell up and the glove wouldn't fit. That's what kind of guy this is.
But, Gilbert shares a post-trial story that serves as a last-scene bombshell. He tells about the now-free OJ sitting in his backyard drinking beer and smoking a joint. At some point Gilbert asks OJ what really happened that night. "What do you think happened?". Gilberts says he always thought OJ did it and that he had heard OJ told AC Cowlings that he didn't have a knife when he went over to Nicole's condo. According to Gilbert OJ then says, "And if Nicole hadn't had a knife when she opened the door, she'd still be alive."