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10 Things American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson Taught Us

Since February, true crime fans have not been able to get enough of FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. The gripping docudrama rewinds back to 1994, where we relive what is now known as the “Trial of the Century.” On June 12th 1994, O.J. was arrested on suspicion of double homicide after the slain bodies of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman were discovered at Brown’s home in Brentwood, California. Following an investigation, and a car chase watched by millions of Americans, the former NFL star-turned-actor was the subject of an 18-month trial but was later acquitted.

The 10-part series hosted a star-studded cast including Cuba Gooding Jr. (Simpson), John Travolta (Robert Shapiro), Courtney B. Vance (Johnnie Cochran), David Schwimmer (Robert Kardashian) and Sarah Paulson (Marcia Clark). Critics handed out positive reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes scoring the series 97% claiming, “American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson brings top-shelf writing, directing, and acting to bear on a still-topical story while shedding further light on the facts – and provoking passionate responses along the way.”

Last night, the show finally came to a gripping end. There may never be another case quite like the O.J. Simpson trial. So here are the 10 Things American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson Taught Us – and it was a lot more than finding out his real name is Orenthal James…

10. O.J Never Wanted To Play The Race Card 

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Episode 5, “The Race Card”, allowed us to take a look at the complicated issue of race in America during the time of the trial. In the opening scene, Johnnie Cochran is pulled over by a police officer, removed from his vehicle and handcuffed. When the officer discovers he is a district attorney, he is allowed to return to his two young daughters and drive away. One of his daughters then asks, “Daddy, did he call you a n—–r?” Cochran replies, “No, he didn’t. He didn’t have to.” Courtney B. Vance, who plays Cochran in the series, told NPR, “Johnnie Cochran, we see him in the same light as we do Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King because he struck a blow. Finally, on the biggest stage, a black man worked the system and got another black man off.”

When Simpson’s defense team first discuss if they should go down the route of proving officer Mark Furham, who discovered crucial evidence, was racist, Simpson replies, “You wanna make this a black thing. Well I’m not black, I’m OJ!” American Crime Story writers adapted this from a quote by sociology professor Harry Edwards in an HBO documentary, he said, “(Simpson’s) sentiments were, ‘I’m not black, I’m O.J.”

In the 90s, racism was a serious issue. Above is two publications, both of which were reporting on the trial at the time. Time magazine received a negative backlash for their cover as it appears they darkened Simpson’s skin – both images are of the same mugshot. In response to the criticism, Time magazine’s managing editor James R. Gaines said, “no racial implication was intended, by Time or by the artist.” Before adding, “The harshness of the mug shot – the merciless bright light, the stubble on Simpson’s face, the cold specificity of the picture – had been subtly smoothed and shaped into an icon of tragedy.” Many dismissed this explanation, claiming the darkening of his skin to be nothing more than a racist tactic to make him appear more “menacing.”

When the verdict was finally read, America was split into two camps – black and white. Prosecutor Christopher Darden told Variety magazine that the trial helped build conversation surrounding race. He said, “Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It’s all through our own individual prisms. If that conversation can begin, if mainstream America can understand why black America was happy with that verdict, if black America can understand why mainstream America was offended by that verdict, then at least people can see things from each other’s perspective and we can find some sort of middle ground.”

In the words of Robert Shapiro, during an interview with LA Times in 1995, “Not only did we play the race card, we dealt it from the bottom of the deck.”

About the author

Cheish Merryweather is the founder of CrimeViral.com Follow on Twitter: @thecheish

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