Part four of ESPN’s documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” which aired on the network Friday, opens with an unbelievable recollection by detective Mark Fuhrman: the first time he went to O.J. Simpson’s house back in 1985.
He tells it with remarkable detail. Driving up the driveway to see Simpson’s wife, Nicole, sitting on her car crying hysterically with Simpson on the other side of the driveway holding a baseball bat. Numerous times Fuhrman tells Simpson to drop the bat until he finally complies after Fuhrman takes out his baton. When Fuhrman asks Nicole if she wants to press charges, she declines.
Fuhrman’s last words to Nicole, probably the first and last time he would ever meet her, are chilling: “It’s your life.”
Part four thrusts us into the madness of the Simpson murder trial, aka “The Trial of the Century.” You may be thinking, “I know it all,” from either living through the endless TV coverage in the 1990s or having recently seen the FX miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” but if you’ve watched “Made in America” up to this point, you probably know that there are other stories that have not been explored.
Director Ezra Edelman has a knack for getting things out of people — and it helps that the passage of time since the trial has likely made the people he interviewed a little more loose-lipped — and that talent is on full display in part four.
Some of the most shocking revelations include Simpson’s former agent Mike Gilbert saying one reason the bloody gloves didn’t fit Simpson’s hands in court was that he had stopped taking his arthritis medicine so his hands were swollen. And then there are the two never-before-seen crime-scene photos. Of course, there’s Fuhrman’s racist rants played on tape in the courtroom that solidified the racial cover-up that the defence sold the jury.
But lasting memories from this part for me are a little less headline-grabbing.
The Ron Shipp storyline throughout “Made in America” is one of the most fascinating, and it all comes to a head in this part. A guy who idolized Simpson when he was young, he became the former football star’s friend when he joined the LAPD. He was so convinced that Simpson did the murders that he agreed to testify against his former friend, in one of those “you couldn’t write a better script”-type storylines for a documentary filmmaker. And the back-and-forth of courtroom footage of Shipp’s cross-examination by Simpson’s defence team with Shipp’s recollections in his interview for the docuseries is masterfully handled.
In another highlight, Edelman interviews two jurors from the trail. Rarely over the decades have we heard from them, and the insight they provide is both enlightening and frustrating. While the prosecution was trying to make its case for why Simpson would have killed his wife given his history of domestic violence, a juror admits she doesn’t respect a woman who stays in a relationship in which she’s getting abused. And of the famous moment when Simpson put on the bloody gloves, a juror recalls, like the rest of the world, that the prosecution was duped into doing it.
Edelman then ends the part at a perfect moment. Right at closing arguments. The theme of racist corruption within the LAPD over decades is at its peak, but is the jury buying it? We need that breath before delving into the verdict.
But we also see in part four that by the trial’s conclusion, for right or wrong, it’s become a civil rights movement that America tunes into daily to watch. Simpson’s “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” motto has been tossed aside like former friend Ron Shipp so he can keep his freedom.
Part five of “O.J.: Made in America” airs on ESPN on Saturday.
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