Seven and a half hours of eruptive frustration and I am incensed. I am depressed. I am befuddled, awestruck, and overflowing with ire, as if the toxic byproduct of such feelings produce smoke that seeps out of my body like the choking smog from old factories. And thus, this smokey cloud lingers around me, suspending me in a despair where any formation of thoughts seems to crumble as soon as they commence. If there is one main, purging reason Ezra Edelman's epically tragic O.J.: Made in America punctures my own sensibilities with how I look at race, class, and ideologies in America is that is so clearly envisions the chaotic fear that I have repressed in a world so saturated in information and lack of discourse. It is both an adamant testament of the film's power to convey a story so thorough and effective and, at the same time, its skill, Edelman's skill, to make the spectator alarmingly vulnerable. With the privilege of the wealth of information provided in this five-part film, we sit and watch hatred become irony, irony become symbolism, and symbolism become tragedy.
Made in America is not just a documentary about famed athlete, actor, and American personality O.J. Simpson; it is a kaleidoscopic mosaic of the individual through prisms and reflections of so many people. Simpson is not interviewed in this film, but mostly everyone else who has been part of his life in some way, big or small, speaks. I am reminded of Ikiru, the compelling film from Akira Kurosawa in which the second half of the film depicts the protagonist only through the stories and opinions of other people, and we are to judge, ourselves, what was going through the mind of a man so full of life yet closing in on death. What is enunciated with such a narrative structure is not just the moments and events in the individual's life but the way in which people responded and reacted to the actions performed by the protagonist. Ezra convincingly presents us with so many people who vocalize so many different views of Simpson that he becomes a translucent entity of a million shades, a character embodying complexity amid stark personality traits.
Yet, Edelman does not stop there; nothing is as engrossing as comparative narratives and Simpson's character arc is neatly and justifiably connecting to the the character arc of the city he lived in, Los Angeles. More specifically, the black experience in Los Angeles from the late 60s to the mid 90s. Virtually beginning from the time Simpson step foot at University of Southern California for football where he would begin an impressive Hall of Fame career, Edelman also begins the story of racial oppression, brutality, and fear in Los Angeles, and the almost inexplicable distance Simpson proscribed himself between him and the black community.
More substantially in the first two parts of the series, which precede the infamous criminal trial, there are times when Simpson is not mentioned for ten to twenty minutes as members of the Los Angeles community, both on the side of the police force and the black activists, describe the constant severance between the two groups and the growing hatred of the black community towards an austerely and uncertain institution that is suppose to protect and serve. It is a great preface or first act to the trial that would be the pompously catastrophic second act. The length of time, over three hours, before the trial builds with a gargantuan intensity because everything is so clear and so understood even though the more you understand the more you realize you don't understand. We, at the very least, recognize what is at stake. Made in America is a milestone of journalistic integrity within the creative documentary context. How Edelman ventures both into the developing psyche of Simpson and the developing urban mindscape of Los Angeles meets at continuously satisfying junctures when both stories intersect from time to time right up until they get tangled in a knot during the trial.
And so once the trial steps onto the stage in all of its grisly obscurity, we realize the social, cultural, and political stakes so vividly that every action by every major player in the trial not only reverberates as it did those twenty-three years ago but reverberates in our minds and our souls newly formed. Among the grave complexities presented it the ongoing realpolitik played out between the defense team and the prosecution, the lashing of ideologies endorsing no desire for discourse, payback for unadulterated hatred and bigotry, and the use of Simpson as a tainted and contestable symbol for black oppression. Maybe I speak more for someone who was too young to understand anything significant regarding this moment in American history, but (re)living these moments will instigate outbursts of emotions, good and bad.
We must be very careful in the ways we create symbols to represent ideologies. There is a reason why it is called a symbol - it is not an object of the real thing, it is almost a metaphorical entity referring to the real thing, whatever that thing may be. Simpson represents the limitations of symbolism, but he also represents the only outlet an oppressed community can vent its growing anger when no one else, no where else, takes the time to listen. It is the sort of predicament America sort of corners itself into from time to time. Ultimately, Made in America creates a lasting effect in that it is almost grossly timely...or maybe even timeless...with exploration of race, culture, and ignorance in America. You will find many, many things throughout this story that ring loudly because of its contemporary presence. You will identify it and you will become frustrated.
Because, the main tragedy of it all happens to be the two deaths that our covered in miles and miles of bullshit and we let that happen.
Again, to reiterate, the ease at which you become wholly immersed, then frustrated, and then in shock is due to both journalistic integrity, calculated narrative structuring, and just the right amount of artistic interjection to create a work alarmingly profound. Like The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, here is another documentary that is incredibly necessary to view, maybe more so by the so-called millennials than anyone else. No matter, it should be viewed by anyone. We shouldn't forget a moment like this, at least as an American, because so many things did not seem right, did not sit well. But it can certainly happen again, maybe it already is.