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8th March 2016

TV Binge: American Crime Story

American Crime Story’s first season, entitled The People v. O. J. Simpson, gives its audience a reminder of issues that are all too relevant today

22 years after O. J. Simpson’s charge with the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and friend
Ronald Goldman, FX revives the “trial of the century” in this 10-part recreation with an excellent cast, featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. as O. J. Simpson, and John Travolta and David Schwimmer as Simpson’s
defence lawyers.

Occurring two years before the trial and forming the backdrop to the case, the 1992 Los Angeles riots thrust the issues of police brutality and racism into the spotlight. The rioters took to the streets for six days, immediately after the acquittal of the four police officers from the LAPD who were charged with the violent arrest and beating of Rodney King. Feelings of injustice and mistrust in the police engulfed the African-American community and explains why the opinions were so divided when American football star O. J. Simpson was charged with murder.

This complex backdrop is cleverly woven into the opening episodes of the American Crime Story’s first season, which doesn’t shy away from tackling racism head-on. The programme opens with footage from the riots, the infamous footage of Rodney King’s arrest, and in-backroom scenes where members of Simpson’s defence utilise and manipulate racial tensions by selecting a jury made up of mainly African-Americans. The show handles these issues superbly, and is best evidenced by the conflict within the characters themselves. Simpson, for instance, first refused to play the “race card” by appealing to the African-American community, believing that his celebrity status is enough to convince people of his innocence.

This celebrity status is explored in the second episode, depicting the famous Bronco car chase; which, cleverly cut between real footage and cheering spectators, whilst Simpson is pursued by police. Celebrity culture arguably plays a more prominent role in society today, and thus the portrayal of Simpson’s special treatment in the media raises some intriguing questions about how we treat celebrities. But not all the references to celebrity culture work—the inside jokes and references to the Kardashian name in particular—stemming from Robert Kardashian’s backstory, felt like cheap and unnecessary nods to today’s well-known reality TV stars.

Despite this, American Crime Story is an incredibly clever and exciting recreation, giving a factually based insight into one of the most controversial and dividing trails in history. What makes watching the case as a recreation particularly fascinating is how many of these racial issues such as police treatment of African-Americans remains the same 21 years later. In recent years the number of high profile acts of police misconduct has been increasing. As a result, whether or not you agree with the verdict, the recreation of the O. J. trail gives audiences an opportunity to be reminded of race’s prominence once again in contemporary society, as well as its role in recent history.

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