“I’m not black, I’m O.J.” says Cuba Gooding Jr. in his portrayal of O.J. Simpson in The People vs. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime. This line among many others reminds those who witnessed the beginning of reality TV. Known as the biggest case of the century to alter pop culture, the show is reflective of the racial overtones of television today. Being born in 1994, I can only recall the aftermath of the famous case and commentary around the age old question “did he really do it?” Two episodes into the mini-series may spark nostalgia for those who lived through the infamous case, but spark real cases that my generation faces day to day.
Episode one begins with footage of the L.A. Riots resulting from the beating and not guilty verdict of the Los Angeles Police Department’s beating of Rodney King… on camera. That incident has been engraved in pop culture’s mental rolodex and resurfaced just last year in Baltimore. History surely repeats itself, wouldn’t you say? Images of the riots set the tone for the series, in 1994 racial tension was at an all-time high nationwide and twenty-two years later, it can be argued that the tension has risen.
Although learning more intimate details, the O.J. Simpson case is entertaining and enlightening to say the least, the biggest takeaway so far has been how relatable a case from over two decades ago hold such relevance today. Johnnie Cochran’s character played by the talented Courtney B. Vance has been regarded as a legal legend and very much a voice for the disparities against blacks in the legal system. Many of Cochran’s lines have been centered on the black struggle against the legal system, police violence, and stereotypes pertaining to the black community.
In the second episode, Cochran does an interview recalling the first case he had, defending a black man killed by police for driving too fast on the highway. Driving too fast, to take his pregnant wife, in labor, to the hospital. “Police aim first, and deliver sloppy apologies second.” The apology aspect may have been true twenty years ago, but many of us know now police don’t even bother at this point. In future episodes it is apparent that race will be a triggering and prioritized factor in this case, something that resonates all too well with any generation in the black community.
Although the events in the show are based on true events the nostalgia and insight of the show are what captivate such a wide audience. Older generations can recall when they initially watched the Bronco chase on live TV; they can spark up conversation about the acquittal of Simpson in regards to the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman. The conversation of interracial dating/marriage, the lack of justice for black men, or even the what-if scenarios all stem from the hit FX series. For my generation, the link between the Simpson case and the 1,134 cases of police brutality last year alone come to mind; the holes that still exist in our legal system when it comes to black men and growing racial tension that is still prevalent in America today.
Racial tension has risen to an all time high recently and does not seem to be letting up anytime soon. The People vs. O.J. Simpson series put the issues we face twenty plus years later on a platform that entertains but speaks volumes to its audience. Although times have indeed changed, many things in our society have stayed the same. Whether it be preferential treatment of celebrities when it comes to crimes, the taboo topic of interracial relationships to the criminalizing of black men in the media and our legal system. All of those aspects can be seen in real life, everyday and on TV it only maximizes the aspects of our lives that others don't seem to notice. The hit FX show should not only be seen as a source of entertainment, but a platform to talk about issues that still press our society and how history will constantly repeat itself, unless we begin to take action.