Director: Ezra Edelman
Cinematographer: Nick Higgins
Producer: Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow, Tamara Rosenberg, Nina Krstic, Deirdre Fenton, Libby Geist, Erin Leyden, Connor Schell
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Flipping to the defense, we have Johnnie Cochran in one of the most nuanced roles, playing a defense attorney mostly focused on racial injustice, often battling the City of Los Angeles. With Shapiro knowing that the only way they can win over public approval is by winning over the black community, he recruits Cochran to the campaign. In a brilliant series of Machiavellian (and pragmatic) twists, Cochran eventually ousts Shapiro’s “lead attorney” status, and takes over as the point person, both because OJ’s close friend Robert Kardashian knows that Cochran is a smarter man and a better “look” for the role. This of course sets off a petty and humorous (if it wasn’t so pathetic) battle for power that Shapiro continues to try and exert throughout the film - and, in fairness, accomplishes fairly well.
Cochran, though, isn’t the virtuous man everyone believes he is. While the documentary shows an attorney who’s using the plight of black men to both remedy systemic racism and advance his own success, the series dives deeper into the man, showing us his history of domestic abuse, along with one of his most powerful moments - watching as President Clinton responds to the need for police reform as it pertains to black Americans. Cochran is shown in close up, with a tear dropping from his face; displaying a firm faith in his accomplishments.
And yet Cochran also shows an uglier side of man - reflecting both those hungry for money or power, whether a businessman or a politician. We’re not sure what Cochran actually feels toward the black community, whether his quest for increased success is an added bonus, or the dominant focus. What we do know is that it at least plays a significant role, as his use of the media circus and ability to plant false or alternative narratives indicate. On the one hand, as he says, he’s simply playing to win, willing to use any means necessary; and on the other, given the black community’s response, it seems that as the case grows in popularity he feels a responsibility to provide them with the justice they desire. In an age of Trump, Cochran seems to have been the 90s liberal version of the same; willing to abandon justice and facts in order to prove a point. Something Darden, in one of a few of their great scenes together, criticizes, declaring that OJ - who was much more a pillar of the white community than black - will do nothing to remedy, but only perpetuate the problem of the rich and famous going free, while the poor and underrepresented are abused.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how - whether the Trump/Russia election collusion is true or not - it could only exist within a world that contains the type of hyper-interconnectivity that we’re currently experiencing and will only continue to grow; in which objective facts are abandoned in favor of alternative headlines, which people read as fact, often without even reading the article at all. Mentioned in the film, the 90s brought about cable news and the 24/7 media circus that allowed this infotainment to be possible at all. Against a backdrop of dire racial tensions, specifically on the heels of the Rodney King Trial, the case wasn’t just an examination of guilt or innocence, but became a metaphor for white or black. What the documentary does far better than the series is demonstrate how OJ’s mission was to live a white lifestyle, essentially abandoning the entire black community in order to go golfing and surround himself by his rich, wealthy white friends. Thus, when he was convicted, Cochran, Shapiro and Co. were able to masterfully realign his allegiances, as white people were overwhelming convinced he was a murderer, and the black community renewed their allegiance; seeing him as the culmination of a racist system.
In one of the great scenes and mistakes from Darden, who urges the court to prevent any witness or piece of evidence from utilizing the word “nigger”, Cochran chastises his request as it assumes that black people would be unable to remove their emotion. Honestly, I’m still on the fence with this one, as the word is the heaviest within the English language and it does seem that Cochran and Co. understood and exploited this fact. Then again, the word carries such weight that, similar to other racial epithets, it's worth exploring how it could sway objectivity, whether or not the the context is relevant.
What both series do so well is demonstrate the tribalism that plagues America time and again; in which people often abandon all sense of reason or logic or objective thinking to join their team, somehow allowing the issue to drift away from a public spectacle and into a deeply personal concern. The numbers are truly incredible with how much the question of OJ’s innocence was divided along racial lines. Does this mean the black community was willing to ignore the facts in order to give a big middle finger to the system (sound familiar)? Or that white people joined a bigoted bandwagon, attempting to prove their own prejudice that black people are more likely to be criminals? Or is the larger concern the media and those who use or control it that often can drive a wedge that create such issues?
While Made in America doesn’t offer even a semblance of the media deconstruction that the documentary does, it does show how the characters react to it. Whether using it for their own personal gain like Cochrane or Co., or falling victim to its sexism and superficiality like Marcia Clark, the fact that thousands of people got rich off this case - from the networks to the advertisers to interview subjects - shows that while it wasn’t a bunch of evil masterminds in a room trying to think of a way to create division, the very nature of the business model ensure it. The only way to keep eyes on a network, or engaged with the proceedings was to ensure that there was always more information or analysis. It had to remain entertaining, and entertainment relies on conflicts, demanding that each viewer choose a side. While no other court case has received the same level of attention, the divisions still exist, with more and more films, musicians, and apolitical sources like scientists or academics, getting pulled into the political infotainment narrative, forcing them and their discoveries to divide rather than unite. OJ seems to have been the harbinger of all of this, extending beyond the cable news and televisions and onto social media and our phones, becoming an increasingly present problem with no end in sight. At least stories like this can help people understand.
BELOW: Perhaps the greatest example against asking a question you don't know the answer to
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