Thursday, June 23, 2016

Camp Orenthal Lives

I'm a little late in writing about this, but O.J. Simpson has been ubiquitous on t.v. these days, first turning up in a made for t.v. series The People v. O.J. Simpson starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and broadcast on several cable channels during the spring.

I caught part of one episode and was nonplussed by what I saw. Having shown the Frontline documentary "The O.J. Verdict" to my classes to punctuate the racial divide in this country, the docudrama didn't tell me anything new or revelatory about the case.

So when I heard ESPN's 30 for 30 series was running a five part, ten hour documentary called O.J.: Made in America my eyes rolled back in my head and I groaned. Another documentary or show about this trial that is now 22 years removed from the public's memory? The documentary I show is an hour, what could possibly take ten hours to cover?

Turns out, quite a lot. I was riveted throughout most of it, particularly the concluding two episodes which ran this past weekend, and which cover from the end of the trial till today (the Frontline documentary came out the year before he went down in Vegas). Virtually every major player, save for the Juice himself, was interviewed today, and the footage they showed, particularly crime scene photos which had never been released before, was harrowing.

However, in all those hours of newly produced footage about him, the murder, his near or subsequent confessions, and his debauched years leading up to Vegas, very little was said or explored on the topic of race, which is astonishing. Because the only reason why Orenthal James Simpson should be discussed today in any capacity, is because of what the trial, verdict, and second trial and verdict say about race relations in this country.

In 1995 he beat the murder rap because he was a famous, wealthy, ex-athlete, tv/movie celebrity who had enough money to put the "dream team" of lawyers together, and who also happened to be black. A black guy married to a white woman who turned up brutally murdered, but who had enough money to buy an outcome that was one of the most racially polarized verdicts in history (t.v. images showing celebrating African-Americans; and angry, jaw clenched white people filled the airwaves).

Fast forward to 2008 and the Juice is just another poor black man on the receiving end of a little "white justice," as one attorney put it in the documentary. For a bungled robbery, carried out by a bunch of middle aged morons who were more laughable and pathetic than threatening, a crime that wouldn't even have generated probation, much less prison time, dude gets 33 years in the slammer, 1 year each for the $33 million verdict against him, and handed down by a white female judge who kept the jury out several days until she could announce the guilty verdict on October 3, 2008, exactly 13 years to the day he walked in 1995 (and ruining a second birthday of mine, thank you very much).

At the time I wrote about the 2008 trial (click on the OJ Again label for past posts), I don't think the sentiment among most people, black or white, was particularly sympathetic or even all that noteworthy. I did note the irony in the outcome of the two trials, but even I had lost the racial lens by which to filter the way the sentence had been handed down. The 30 for 30 documentary at least addressed that part of it, but that was pretty much the only part.

Nonetheless, slowed down by the years in prison (the picture above was from 2015 when an appeal was rejected), the Juice comes up for parole in 2017. I would have bet against him getting it before these new documentaries and movies about him, but now that interest has been generated again on a national scale, I'm not so sure he won't be back on the streets by the end of 2017.

And the reaction will still be notable to watch.

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