In 1994, when the “Trial of the Century” was taking place, I was about two years old. Growing up, I knew of O.J. Simpson. I knew his trial had something to do with murder and race. I knew there was something about a glove and a Bronco and a car chase. That’s pretty much all I knew, having absorbed it all through cultural osmosis. American Crime Story delivered the juicy, fascinating details that made this case as infamous as it was.
It seems that everything about this case was fraught with tension and problems from the very beginning. First, there’s Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor on the case, who struggled to deal with horrific misogyny in the face of constant media coverage. This culminates in the episode “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” as it comes to light that Marcia’s first husband sold nude photos of her to the National Enquirer. Towards the end of the episode, Marcia breaks down in tears right in the middle of the courtroom, an expected reaction from someone who has been for weeks dealing with mockery and ridicule from the press.
I can’t talk about Marcia Clark without talking about Sarah Paulson, whose brilliant performance was utterly captivating. One of the benefits of having been so young during this case was that I know nothing about the real people these actors are portraying, and therefore have nothing to compare their performances to. Therefore, I can simply enjoy the actors doing their thing without having to wonder how true-to-life they are. And Sarah Paulson is a joy to watch, whether she’s righteously furious or sobbing or being the best mother she can be to her two young boys.
While I’m talking about Marcia and Sarah, I have to talk about Chris Darden, played by Sterling K. Brown. I know shipping is the last thing on this show’s mind, but holy hell, from the first scene they were in together, I knew I shipped Marcia and Chris. I also felt very weird about this, because I had to keep reminding myself that they are real people, and shipping real people is creepy as hell. I guess it’s less creepy to say that I truly enjoyed their relationship, their deep respect and fondness for one another, their teamwork and camaraderie, as well as their disagreements and full-blown fights. They played off each other excellently, had incredible chemistry, and left me incredibly curious about the real-life relationship between Marcia and Chris. Oh, and I totally have a crush on Sterling K. Brown now.
But back to the case, and most importantly, the jury. The jury sequestered for nearly a year! I had no idea you could even do that! By the eight month mark they were nearly falling apart, locked away from the outside world, no family, no television, nothing. In “A Jury in Jail” several jurors are excused for lying or having bizarre connections to O.J. Simpson, in an absolutely hilarious sequence that has the defense and prosecution vying to maintain their hold on sympathetic jurors.
Then we have Mark Fuhrman, the unabashedly racist LAPD officer who ultimately tanked the case for the prosecution. First off: wow. That is a lot of racism coming from one single person. Apparently Fuhrman not only espoused despicable views of black people, he was also an avid collector of “World War II memorabilia,” a euphemism for shit like swastikas from Nazi Germany, so, basically, he’s the type of guy we’d call a member of the “alt-right” today. (And of course, like any good ol’ red-blooded American racist, the reveal of his views led to best-selling book deals and little to no punishment.) But that’s not all, because what’s a trial fraught with scandal if the judge isn’t involved? The tapes that outed Fuhrman’s racism also have him spouting misogyny towards one Peggy York, his former superior officer and presiding Judge Lance Ito’s wife.
For a moment, it seemed like a mistrial was in the stars, but things eventually settle down, and the trial trudges on. O.J. has tries on the gloves, which don’t fit. The prosecution presents DNA evidence, which the jury doubts. Johnnie Cochran (who dealt with his own scandal of domestic abuse allegations) puts forth a theory of racial discrimination, a theory that becomes more plausible when Fuhrman takes the stand again and takes the fifth about planting evidence. Finally, after merely four hours, the jury comes back with a Not Guilty verdict. O.J. Simpson returns home, but realizes his life will never be the same again, starting with the loss of his best friend, Robert Kardashian.
Let’s talk about that for a minute. A surprising stand-out performance came from David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, who I had no idea had been O.J.’s best friend! Apparently, though, the Kardashians were incredibly close with the Simpsons, and O.J. was the Kardashian children’s godfather! I finally understand the source of the Kardashian fame empire. It wasn’t just Kim’s sex tape or whatever other escapades were in the spotlight; this family has been under media scrutiny since the 90s. Schwimmer plays Kardashian with the steady, earnest disposition of a man just trying to do the right thing. It’s…surprising to say the least that Kardashian comes out of this looking like one of the good guys, from his staunch support of his best friend to his emerging doubts once he realizes that O.J. abused Nicole.
O.J. Simpson abused Nicole Brown. That is not a disputed fact. He may have called it “tousling” or whatever (a word that shocks his friend Robert Kardashian), but he abused her, and she feared for her life. Knowing what I know about how easily domestic violence escalates to murder, I find it extremely plausible that O.J. Simpson murdered his wife. It’s a believable narrative: he abused her for years, and, upon finding her with another man, murdered them both in a rage. It happens all the time. Given that, the enormous amount of DNA evidence, the fact that O.J. Simpson was beloved by the LAPD, and that there were no other suspects, it’s honestly astounding to me that O.J. was deemed Not Guilty.
American Crime Story is a whirlwind of a show, reflecting a tumultuous year-long trial that held the nation in the grip of a media circus. According to critics, the show is extremely accurate in its details and portrayals and takes few dramatic liberties, which I appreciate. As someone who knew little to nothing about one of the most famous trials in American history, I’m delighted to have so enjoyed learning so much about it.