Throwback: The People vs OJ Simpson

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The nature of fiction is that it is created and fuelled by the imagination. That is why when we live in a world where fictional stories are intended to bind our moral fibre, it is no surprise to find that the real world, the world of real action and real implication, can be found to be the more morally ambiguous. And there is no more subtle, sharp, sobering example of this ambiguity than the real story of O.J Simpson – charged, as you may know, for the brutal and depraved murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman in the summer of 1994.

“Between the perfect casting […] and the enthralling script, the series leaps from issue to issue with such adroitness that it becomes far more insightful and relevant than seems possible”

I was first told to watch the TV adaption of the O.J. trial by my brother, but never got around to it because the previous episodes had been taken off BBC iPlayer. I’m glad that I’ve watched it. ‘The people vs O.J Simpson’ is one the best television series I’ve seen. Between the perfect casting (looking in particular towards the casting of Courtney B.Vance as Johnnie Cochrane and Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clarke) and the enthralling script, the series leaps from issue to issue with such adroitness that it becomes far more insightful and relevant than seems possible considering the material. The ‘trial of the century’ was itself warped and disformed and manipulated by the media and television, and this simple case that became a national story is so deftly handled that it succeeds without ever seeming to turn into a parody of itself, which it so easily could have been.

“The race card is not treated as untrue but simply deeply ingenuous within the context of the murders”

I spoke at the beginning of the article about moral ambiguity. For those who don’t know, the so called ‘dream team’ of O.J Simpson, backed into a corner regarding the facts of the murder, resorted to using the proverbial ‘race card’. Citing the historic abuse of the African American community by the L.A Police department, the defence held fast to the idea that Mark Furhman, one of the detectives handling the case, corrupted the evidence because he was a racist. To add a few more provocative ingredients into the mix, the head prosecutor was a white, single-parent woman, and the co-prosecutor was a black man arguably promoted because of the colour of his skin. All of these things might seem hard to balance, mightn’t they? But this is where the series really is at its most poignant. Whilst not depreciating the plight of the African American community, the race card is not treated as untrue but simply deeply ingenuous within the context of the murders, and one of the great underlying themes, of a strong woman subject to the scrutiny of the media and the mob, is treated with such emotional precision that it still proves deeply relevant. Whilst the series may fall short in some ways – for example the lack of conversation around Ronald Goldman – the acting, dialogue and subject matter proves a thoughtful and suspenseful combination.

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