Women in Entertainment 2016

#OscarsSoWhite Creator: Would African-American Women Still Support O.J. Simpson Today? (Guest Column)

O.J. Simpson awaited the verdict on Oct. 3, 1995. (Inset: April Reign)

"Issues informing the trial once considered too taboo to discuss openly now are debated freely," writes April Reign, the activist behind the social movement, as she ponders what has changed — and what has not — since the infamous murder case.

As a recent law grad in 1994, I was so riveted by the O.J. Simpson trial, I brought a 5-inch black-and-white television to the office so I wouldn't miss it. When the jury declared O.J. not guilty, I cheered, surprising myself, unable to fully articulate why.

Twenty years later, two series provide some context for my emotions. FX's The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and ESPN's epic documentary O.J.: Made in America offer the kind of nuanced look at race, class and gender that was impossible while the trial was happening. I was very interested to see how women on black Twitter — especially younger women — would react to these series.

Most watchers fell into two camps. On the one hand, some were content to see O.J. walk free because the prosecution had failed to prove its case. Their frame of reference was informed by the Black Lives Matter movement. After seeing so many black men killed in the past few years at the hands of state-sanctioned violence, it was an acknowledgment that while the justice system is broken, its failings benefited a black man.

On the other hand, as we watched and tweeted the series, I did not see overwhelming support for O.J. within the black community, perhaps because he had used to his advantage something that he shunned — his race. He was famously known for saying, "I'm not black; I'm O.J." He used his wealth to distance himself from his blackness in every way: a home in an all-white neighborhood, white friends, a white wife. Yet when it came time to stand trial, lawyer Johnnie Cochran painted O.J. as yet another black man unjustly accused. Because O.J. had rejected us then, however, we now feel little inclination to support him.

If the tragedy occurred today, I also doubt O.J. would enjoy the support he received from the black community 20 years ago. Thanks to the advent of social media, the public has a much more well-rounded picture of an individual, and we would have delved deeper into his past, like the fact that he began dating Nicole Brown while he was still married to Marguerite, his first wife and a black woman. Issues informing the trial once considered too taboo to discuss openly now are debated freely. What has remained and still needs to be addressed is the inequitable way that the criminal justice system treats people of color.

This story first appeared in the 2016 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.