After People v. O. J., a closer look at the Trial of the Century

The People v. O. J. Simpson, the first season of FX’s American Crime Story, ended last night to thunderous reviews. For a generation that didn’t live through the Simpson murder trial and never had to endure a year of Jay Leno monologue jokes, American Crime Story was a sensationalist look at a period of history that continues to explain so much about the current state of celebrity culture and race relations in America. Intrigue about O. J. and the trial are at their highest since 1995.

Viewers gripped to the show probably want to learn more; the obvious starting place is in the books written by the trial’s participants. We’d also like to offer up two documentaries in our collection, one about the trial itself and one that shows the effect of the verdict.

First, watch American Justice: Why O. J. Simpson Won (HU DVD 11111), an A&E documentary hosted by Bill Kurtis about the legal and cultural significance of the case. The hour-long documentary includes interviews with Johnnie Cochran and Fred Goldman. A&E claims this is “the definitive wrap-up” of the trial, and it may be able to solidify the themes – however exaggerated – that the show introduced.

If you want to see a first-hand example of how Cochran’s symbolic victory opened up discussions about police and race – if only on a cursory level – you can watch a streaming version of Racial Profiling and Law Enforcement: America in Black and White, ABC News’s special report on racially motivated police practices produced three years after the trial ended. Its messages should come as no surprise to anyone following police violence in the past few years, but the special is clear evidence of these issues’ heightened profile after the trial. The participation of prosecutor Christopher Darden is also telling evidence of trial’s long shadow.

Again, sadly, you don’t have to look far to see the same sort of racial discord. But if you want something more factual than the show, these two documentaries are a closer look at what happened in the trial, why it happened, and what it meant.

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