I spent the day at Metrograph rewatching OJ Simpson: Made in America in its entirety. Once again I found it stunning in its meticulously layered breakdown of how media, race, gender, violence, money, and injustice intersect in OJ’s rise and fall, in the history of the LAPD, and in the precarious construct of fame.
It’s shocking to realize it’s been more than two decades since all this occurred. I remember crushing out on OJ when I was a little girl; he was so damn fast, so fine, so fly. And those dimples! Also so damn funny in the Naked Gun movies (an echo you saw o shit when he infamously hamhanded the gloves in his double murder trial.) I remember crying at my kitchen table when the Rodney King verdict was delivered, crying again when LA burned afterward. I remember watching that white Bronco slide slo-mo down LA freeways with Julian and Michael (our 20something love triangle temporarily on hold while the 12 hours of this drama juicily eclipsed our own), and I remember the news suddenly being ALL OJ ALL THE WAY for the next year.
I remember Cornel West saying,”Dear lord please don’t let him be guilty.” I remember a white woman who considered herself liberal saying “I hope that ape gets the electric chair” and acting all innocent victim when I blew up on her; “Oh, please, you knew what I meant.” I remember thinking, This fucking trial is revealing every button ever sewn. I remember crowding into the conference room at the magazine where I worked to watch the trial verdict being delivered. When OJ was declared not guilty, I watched all the white people–writers and editors–look shocked and angry and all the black people–supporting staff with one exception–look relieved. I remember saying at a bar that night there are two Americas and today one of them discovered the other. I remember that the news never went back to normal after that–that gossip and identity politics and Andy Warhol’s 15 minute-people kept us distracted and dumb until it was totally normal for CNN and even the New York Times to be reporting on celeb breakups and sex scandals while the USA messed up its own people and many other peoples as well. Still we just kept talking only about Octomom and Bennifer and Kimye. Hell, I was right in the thick of it, rolling in the grown-up money I was making as an Us Weekly drone.
You couldn’t directly trace it to the OJ trial but you couldn’t pretend anything was ever the same, either. The country’s split was more overt after it, for better and worse. Many became reality TV zombies who were so entitled, so lazy, and so accustomed to badly airing their opinions about nothing based on nothing that a reality TV oligarch got elected to the highest office in the land. There’s a quick pic of Tr%mp hanging with OJ in the documentary, chills, chills, and more chills. And it makes you think: The types that are shocked Trump got into office are the same types shocked OJ was acquitted. This is the legacy of racism in our country, ladies and germs.
For more than ever there are two Americas. The America that went for birtherism and are A-OK with the queerphobic women-hating racist fascists who’ve seized the White House in a complete coup. And the America that elected its first black president and rallied at JFK last month and made and financed and distributed and celebrated the top three documentaries of this year: I Am Not Your Negro, The 13th, and OJ Simpson: Made in America, all of which highlight the profound pathology that has been the treatment of people of color in this country since its inception. Dual realities: They’re as American as apple pie. And the Juice himself, of course.