O.J.: Made in America

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O.J.: Made in America
OJ Made in America.png
Television release poster
Directed by Ezra Edelman
Produced by
Music by Gary Lionelli
Cinematography Nick Higgins
Edited by
  • Bret Granato
  • Maya Mumma
  • Ben Sozanski
Production
companies
Distributed by ESPN Films
Release date
  • January 22, 2016 (2016-01-22) (Sundance)
  • May 20, 2016 (2016-05-20) (United States)
Running time
467 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million[2]

O.J.: Made in America is a 2016 American documentary, produced and directed by Ezra Edelman for ESPN Films and their 30 for 30 series. It was released as a five-part miniseries and in theatrical format. The documentary explores race and celebrity through the life of O. J. Simpson, from his emerging football career at the University of Southern California, and his celebrity and popularity within American culture, to his trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, and subsequent acquittal, and how he was convicted and imprisoned for another crime 13 years later.[3] O.J.: Made in America premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2016, and was theatrically released in New York City and Los Angeles in May 2016. It debuted on ABC on June 11, 2016, and aired on ESPN.

The documentary received critical acclaim and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards. The documentary became the last of its type to be nominated and win an Oscar after a new Academy rule barred any "multi-part or limited series" from being eligible for the documentary categories.[4]

Premise[edit]

Through interviews, news footage, and archival audio and video, O.J.: Made in America traces the life and career of O. J. Simpson, starting with his arrival at the University of Southern California as an emerging football superstar and ending with his incarceration in 2007 for robbery. Throughout the documentary, Simpson's life – the football success, television career, relationship with Nicole Brown, the domestic abuse, Nicole and Ron Goldman's murder, the trial – runs parallel to the larger narrative of the city of Los Angeles, which serves as host to mounting racial tensions, and a volatile relationship between the city's police department and the African American community. Footage from the Watts Riots was used as well as the entire Rodney King video, which most news outlets and documentaries only use in parts. Both these events are used to set up and explain what happened during the Simpson murder trial.

TV critic James Poniewozik described the director's technique in his New York Times review: "Ezra Edelman pulls back, way back, like a news chopper over a freeway chase. Before you hear about the trial, the documentary says, you need to hear all the stories – the stories of race, celebrity, sports, America – that it's a part of."[5]

Production[edit]

Development of a documentary based on Simpson for ESPN Films began in 2007, eventually leading to the hiring of Brett Morgen to create the film, June 17th, 1994, also part of the 30 for 30 series.[6] Released in June 2010, June 17th, 1994 used solely archive footage from several sporting events that occurred on June 17, 1994, to chronicle the events of the police chase of O. J. Simpson.[7] ESPN Films executive producer Connor Schell said, "If you are going to do O. J. Simpson, you are going to cover June 1994 to Oct. 1995 – it is unavoidable. But if you are interested in things that came before it and after it, then it has to be longer than the traditional two-hour form." This led to a meeting between Schell and director Ezra Edelman in February 2014, where Schell expressed interest in creating a five-hour documentary on Simpson. Edelman initially declined, as he felt "there was nothing left to say about him". Edelman eventually agreed to the project, realizing that Simpson's trial did not have to be the focus, or if he was innocent or guilty, rather, Edelman "could use that canvas to tell a deeper story about race in America, about the city of Los Angeles, the relationship between the black community and the police, and who O. J. was and his rise to celebrity. That's the story I wanted to tell."[6]

Throughout the 18-month process from conception to completion, Edelman conducted 72 interviews for the documentary, "including key players from the prosecution (Marcia Clark, Gil Garcetti and Bill Hodgman), Simpson's defense team (F. Lee Bailey, Carl E. Douglas and Barry Scheck), childhood friends of Simpson, jurors from the criminal trial, former LAPD detectives involved in the case (Mark Fuhrman and Tom Lange) and African-American civil rights activists", and people who could speak on behalf of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. Edelman also reached out to Simpson through a letter, which was never answered; he had also hoped to include Simpson's first wife, Marguerite, who could not be contacted, and former L.A. County district attorney Christopher Darden, who declined participation. Despite envisioning the project as a five-hour documentary, the final film was screened to ESPN Films executives at 7.5 hours in length, to which Schell said they would figure out the programming end, as they were "going to give Ezra the time he needs to tell this story".[6] The initial plan was to break the film into three parts – "everything leading up to the murder and then the trial and then everything after the trial" – before a five-part format was settled on.[8] In January 2016, ESPN Films announced O.J.: Made in America for part of their 30 for 30 series.[3]

Release[edit]

O.J.: Made in America premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2016,[3] with one intermission,[9] and was also screened at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23, 2016,[10] and the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto on April 29 and 30.[11] The documentary had a theatrical run with two intermissions at Cinema Village in New York City and the Laemmle Theatre in Santa Monica, California from May 20–26, 2016. The first part debuted on television on June 11, 2016 on ABC, followed by parts two through five airing on ESPN on June 14, 15, 17 and 18, respectively.[9] The entire documentary was made available on WatchESPN on June 14, 2016, after the airing of the second part.[6] In subsequent airings of the fourth part, graphic crime scene photos were blurred by ESPN, to allow the re-airings to occur "at various times." The images were not blurred in the original airing or in the version available "on demand to viewers online or via cable VOD services."[12]

Reception[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 100%, based on 50 reviews, with an average rating of 9.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "O.J.; Made in America paints a balanced and thorough portrait of the American dream juxtaposed with tragedy and executed with power and skill."[13] On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating to reviews, the film has a score of 96 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[14]

Kenneth Turan and Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times both praised O.J.: Made in America, with Turan stating, the film "is an exceptional 7 1/2-hour documentary, so perceptive, empathetic and compelling you want it never to end",[15] with McNamara adding, "Historically meticulous, thematically compelling and deeply human, O.J.: Made in America is a masterwork of scholarship, journalism and cinematic art."[16] Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch called the film "the best 30 for 30 documentary [ESPN] has ever produced. It is thrilling and uncompromising filmmaking... and it will make you look at the most famous murder case in United States history with fresh eyes and under a larger prism."[6] Brian Tallerico, writing for RogerEbert.com, awarded the film four stars out of four, stating, "Even in this era of 'Peak TV', it's rare to see something as essential and momentous as ESPN's OJ: Made in America... Ezra Edelman's stunningly ambitious, eight-hour documentary is a masterpiece, a refined piece of investigative journalism that places the subject it illuminates into the broader context of the end of the 20th century... I would have watched it for another eight hours... It's that good."[17]

Daniel Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter said, "O.J.: Made in America is a provocative, intelligent and thorough documentary that tears along at an impressive clip given its length, with tragedy around every corner. The first miniseries to air under the ESPN Films and 30 for 30 banners, it also instantly takes its place among the banner's best efforts",[18] while Hank Stuever for The Washington Post called it "nothing short of a towering achievement".[19] Variety's Brian Lowry added, "even in the annals of ESPN's 30 for 30 docs, [Ezra Edelman has created] what feels like a master opus – one that deals with the nexus of race, celebrity and sports, and the strange juxtaposition of a figure who prided himself on transcending color, yet ultimately relied upon it when charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman."[20]

A. O. Scott of The New York Times felt the film "has the grandeur and authority of the best long-form nonfiction. If it were a book, it could sit on the shelf alongside The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer and the great biographical works of Robert Caro. It's very much a film, though, a feat of tireless research, dogged interviewing and skillful editing." However, Scott felt a "significant blind spot" for the film was its "predominance of male voices among the interview subjects, and the narrowness of the film's discussion of domestic violence... [T]he film, which so persuasively treats law enforcement racism as a systemic problem, can't figure out how to treat violence against women with the same kind of rigor or nuance", adding that "O. J. Simpson is viewed as a symbol" while "Nicole Brown Simpson's fate, in contrast, is treated as an individual tragedy, and there seems to be no political vocabulary available to the filmmakers to understand what happened to her. The deep links between misogyny and American sports culture remain unexamined."[21]

Accolades[edit]

Award Category Recipients and nominees Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow Won [22]
ACE Eddie Awards Best Edited Documentary Feature Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski Won [23]
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Awards Best Documentary Ezra Edelman Nominated [24]
American Film Institute Awards AFI Special Award O.J.: Made in America Won [25]
Austin Film Critics Association Awards Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Nominated [26]
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Documentary Feature Film Ezra Edelman Runner-up [27]
Black Reel Awards Best Feature Documentary Ezra Edelman Nominated [28][29]
Outstanding Emerging Filmmaker Ezra Edelman Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Won [30]
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [31]
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [32]
Cinema Audio Society Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Motion Picture – Documentary Keith Hodne and Eric Di Stefano Nominated [33]
Cinema Eye Honors Awards Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow Nominated [34]
Outstanding Achievement in Direction Ezra Edelman Won
Outstanding Achievement in Editing Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, and Ben Sozanski Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Production Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow Won
Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score Gary Lionelli Nominated
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Best Documentary Feature O.J.: Made in America Won [35][36]
Best Director (Theatrical Feature) Ezra Edelman Won
Best Sports Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won
Best Limited Documentary Series O.J.: Made in America Won
Best Political Documentary O.J.: Made in America Nominated
Denver Film Critics Society Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Won [37]
Detroit Film Critics Society Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [38]
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary Ezra Edelman Won [39]
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Runner-up [40]
Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association Documentary of the Year O.J.: Made in America Won [41]
Georgia Film Critics Association Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Won [42]
Best Picture O.J.: Made in America Nominated
Gotham Independent Film Awards Best Documentary Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow, Tamara Rosenberg,
Nina Krstic, Deirdre Fenton, Libby Geist, Erin Leyden,
and Connor Schell
Won [43]
Audience Award Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow, Tamara Rosenberg,
Nina Krstic, Deirdre Fenton, Libby Geist, Erin Leyden,
and Connor Schell
Nominated
Houston Film Critics Society Awards Best Documentary Feature O.J.: Made in America Won [44]
Independent Spirit Awards Best Documentary Feature Ezra Edelman Won [45]
Indiana Film Journalists Association Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [46]
IndieWire Critics Poll Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [47]
Best Editing Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski Runner-up
Best Film O.J.: Made in America 5th Place
International Cinephile Society Awards Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Nominated [48]
International Documentary Association Best Feature Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow, Tamara Rosenberg,
Nina Krstic, Deirdre Fenton, Libby Geist, Erin Leyden,
and Connor Schell
Won [49]
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [50]
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [51]
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Editing Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, and Ben Sozanski Won [52]
Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Runner-up
MTV Movie & TV Awards Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Nominated [53]
National Board of Review Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Won [54]
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Non-Fiction Film O.J.: Made in America Won [55]
Nevada Film Critics Society Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [56]
New York Film Critics Circle Best Non-Fiction Film O.J.: Made in America Won [57]
New York Film Critics Online Top Films of the Year O.J.: Made in America Won [58]
North Carolina Film Critics Association Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Won [59]
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [60]
Best Film O.J.: Made in America 4th Place
Online Film & Television Association Best Documentary Picture Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow Won [61]
Online Film Critics Society Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Won [62][63]
Best Picture O.J.: Made in America Nominated
Peabody Awards Documentary ESPN Films and Laylow Films Won [64]
Philadelphia Film Festival Audience Award – Best Feature Ezra Edelman Won
Phoenix Critics Circle Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Won [65]
Phoenix Film Critics Society Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Nominated [66]
Primetime Emmy Awards Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow, Tamara Rosenberg,
Nina Krstic, Libby Geist, and Connor Schell
Nominated [67]
Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming Ezra Edelman Won
Outstanding Cinematography for a Nonfiction Program Nick Higgins Nominated
Outstanding Picture Editing for a Nonfiction Program Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski Won
Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special Gary Lionelli Nominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Nonfiction Program Keith Hodne and Eric Di Stefano Nominated
Producers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow Won [68]
San Diego Film Critics Society Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Nominated [69]
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Nominated [70]
Satellite Awards Best Documentary Film O.J.: Made in America Nominated [71]
Seattle Film Critics Society Best Documentary Ezra Edelman Won [72]
Southeastern Film Critics Association Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America 2nd Place [73]
Television Critics Association Awards Outstanding Achievement in News and Information O.J.: Made in America Won [74]
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Nominated [75]
Village Voice Film Poll Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Won [76]
Best Film O.J.: Made in America 5th Place
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America Nominated [77]

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External links[edit]