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Those who haven’t had their fill of the O.J. Simpson murder case after FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson can check out another, more expansive look at Simpson in the context of race in America when ESPN Films’ five-part Made in America series about the former NFL star airs in June.
The documentary miniseries, which spans seven and a half hours, screened Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival. Sunday, director Ezra Edelman and a number of journalists, including three from ESPN’s soon-to-be-launched Undefeated digital platform, discussed the series.
During the audience questions portion of the panel, someone asked about Concussion inspiration Bennet Omalu’s theory that Simpson has CTE, the disease caused by repeated head trauma in football players that Omalu discovered. Edelman said that he talked to two doctors who said that could be an explanation for Simpson’s violent behavior, including allegedly abusing and killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson. But Edelman doesn’t buy it.
“I think that’s as good a theory as any except if you look at these symptoms of athletes who have CTE and the symptoms of how they play out over time, you have to believe that OJ didn’t start abusing [Nicole] in 1978 or didn’t abuse [his first wife] Marguerite, as he allegedly did,” Edelman said. “And for me personally to report something in a film that one is completely unverifiable and second, to me, it’s a cop out. OJ wasn’t the way he was and wasn’t abusive because he played football. I think that sort of discounts the personality defect that exists. I didn’t want to give him that out and say, by the way, it’s because he played football. As much as it would’ve been a nice narrative twist at the end, … I don’t believe it.”
Edelman’s film follows Simpson from his childhood through his time playing football at USC and in the NFL, being accused of murdering his ex-wife and Ron Goldman, and his conviction for armed robbery in Las Vegas. The series features a plethora of interviews, with Simpson’s friends, former agent, multiple members of the prosecution in his murder case, and others. But Edelman says there are a few people he wasn’t able to get interviews with that he wanted to talk to, specifically Simpson’s friend and white Ford Bronco driver Al Cowlings, who Edelman said has “never spoken to anybody” about the case, Simpson’s first wife, Marguerite, and Chris Darden.
“I knew it would be unlikely to get anyone on the prosecution to talk,” Edelman said. “[Darden] was the one I actually spent a lot of energy to get, and we got everyone else. I understand why he wouldn’t, but I also think he did himself a disservice by not participating.”
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