O.J.: Made in America–Ezra Edelman on his Epic Oscar Docu

Ezra Edelman’s eight-hour documentary O.J.: Made In America chronicles the rise and fall of American football star-turned-Hollywood actor OJ Simpson, placed in the broader contexts of racial politics in Los Angeles over the past five decades.

The epic docu has won many awards and is now nominated for the 2017 Best Documentary Oscar, considered to be the frontrunner.

Edelman doesn’t look at his work as a series. It’s a long film.  What drew me to the project was the notion of telling a longer story in one film.”

When Connor Schell, head of film and original content at ESPN, first proposed the idea, the New York filmmaker nearly turned him down. “I wasn’t interested in Simpson and I wasn’t sure what I could add to what had been done before,” says Edelma.

OJ Made In America

It was only when he looked into Simpson’s story in more depth and put it into the wider socio-political contexts that he g0t excited. “It’s a uniquely defining cultural tale that involves so much stuff,” he says. “ This greater canvas and the formal challenge of making a movie that long were the main attractions.

Simpson’s fall from grace — following the double-murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994, the subsequent TV criminal trial in 1995 and its verdict judging him innocent — is at the heart of the film but Edelman’s portrait of the star and his legacy goes beyond that event. It also explores the sports career that propelled Simpson out of an impoverished San Francisco neighborhood to the University of Southern California in the mid-1960s, and then onto a record-breaking stint with National Football League team the Buffalo Bills.

The series also follows Simpson’s life of celebrity amid Los Angeles’ mainly white establishment of the time, as well as darker persona.

“Nobody even remembers who OJ was,” says Edelman. “How he was this pioneering cultural figure as one of the first black athletes to cross over and become a star. All that was erased in 1994, when he ceased to be that and became famous for being infamous.”

The director was most interested in how Simpson’s journey interfaced with the history of the African American community in LA and its relationship with the LAPD. His research revealed that the star distanced himself from black militancy early in his career. “Because of the wider canvas, I could explore the history of Los Angeles, the migration of the black community to the city, its integration and this inner play between that community and the LAPD.

 

OJ Made In America

“It was a question of trying to interweave and connect those two narratives but it was much more than then me being interested in OJ,” says Edelman.

Made over a two-year period, the archive team gathered some 800 hours of footage while Edelman conducted 72 interviews, 66 of which are used in the film. The interviewees range from childhood friends to key players in the prosecution and defense teams at the trial.

He requested an interview with Simpson,saying, ‘This is what I’m doing, please be a part of it,’” he says. “I never heard anything, but even had I interviewed OJ himself, I question whether he would have truly shed light on who he is and how he became who he did.”