89th Academy Awards: O.J. Simpson Documentary Win Is Important, Here’s Why [Opinion]

The O.J. Simpson murder trial was deemed the trial of the century back in 1995 when the now-infamous ex-football star was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.

Last year, a whole new generation became fascinated with the proceedings all over again through an FX miniseries American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson and the five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America. Both went on to gain critical acclaim and last night, the nearly eight-hour film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film’s win was both well deserved and a big political statement that far outweighs the ceremony itself.

As the Telegraph reported, the complete shutout of any racial diversity of last year’s Oscars nominations did not sit well with the general public. However, the fact that a documentary taking on these very problematic racial divides can win in a major category signaled a much-needed improvement this year.

O.J.:Made In America wins Best Documentary Feature at 89th Academy Awards.

The documentary explores the history of race relations in American society through the events preceding, during, and directly after Simpson’s trial. It brilliantly dissects the early life of O.J. to highlight how he became the first mainstream African-American to be fully embraced and adored by white society. However, he never spoke out about heated racial tensions that existed at the time, and being a voice for the often voiceless black population was not something he tackled. As reflected in the film, he would often combat this by saying, “I’m not black, I’m O.J!” In addition, the majority of friends and celebrities he associated himself with were white.

Then, when he was charged in the brutal murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, everything changed. Suddenly, the man who seemed to reject classifications of race was at the center of one of the most racially heated and tense trials in American history. Suddenly, “The Juice” was dependent on the very race he had long distanced himself from to set him free.

To this day, the words “not guilty” in this trial still resonate with many people around the world. While the majority of the African-American community were overjoyed by the outcome, many others (predominately white) were not so sure of his innocence in this case. The racial divide over the verdict had long-term ramifications to the point where the debate over his involvement in the murders is still heated today.

Overall, the five-part documentary is a candid look into the racial tensions of that time. Much like back then, there is still a large amount of racial divide within mainstream society. Most notably, police brutality against members of the African-American race has gained much media coverage in recent years. Because this was a major topic in the film (specifically the police beating of black civilian Rodney King in the early 1990s, which set the stage for the racial divide in the OJ trial), the director even made sure to dedicate the Oscar win to victims of police violence, according to the Hollywood Reporter. In the quick but powerful acceptance speech, director Ezra Edelman stated that the win was for victims of “police violence, police brutality, racially-motivated violence and criminal injustice,” all major talking points included in the documentary. Having a film that addressed this hot-topic against the backdrop of the most infamous trial of all-time is a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Academy Awards.

The director also dedicated the film and win to the two murder victims Nicole and Ron and their families.

It’s a very positive sign that the film was triumphant last night, at least partially making up for the fact that there was no sense of diversity last year with a list of all-white nominees. Perhaps the win will even drive more people to watch the educational, fascinating, and riveting documentary. Viewers may expect to tune in to simply watch a rundown of the infamous murder trial, but they are given so much more in the form of racial and social commentary. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the film has also broken a new record: It is now the longest ever film to win an Academy Award with a 467-minute run time.

Currently, OJ is serving a minimum nine-year sentence in an unrelated kidnapping and assault case in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, he could be released on parole later this year.

[Featured Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]