When FX released Ryan Murphy’s drama miniseries American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, especially on the heels of Ezra Edelman’s docuseries O.J.: Made in America, I wondered what Murphy thought he could uncover regarding the trial which had not been rehashed again and again during the event’s constant news coverage. But true crime, specifically when it dramatizes real events, does not rely on the same version of the truth that say, Edelman does in his documentary. This type of storytelling depends on an ambiguous relationship with the truth, meaning Murphy was not limited to recreating courtroom scenes using the original transcripts, but could take liberties with the facts in order to present a more complete interpretation of the trial. Take Marcia Clark’s portrayal by Sarah Paulson, for example. Greater than the limited experience of knowing Clark only through court footage and tabloid news, this dramatization offers a glimpse of the prosecutor’s humanity beyond the trial. Murphy’s drama allows audiences to see and feel the immense pain and frustration Clark felt as she balanced her personal and professional life in front of the media.
One such scene is between Clark and fellow prosecutor Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown). The episode, titled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” focuses on the harsh media treatment Clark endured throughout the trial, including commentary on her sense of style, her haircut, and the release of a nude photo taken years earlier. By the end of the episode, Clark’s spirit has clearly been broken, as Darden finds her crying on the floor of her office after a long day in court. “I’m not a public personality,” she exclaims, revealing an emotionality not seen in any of the courtroom footage, where she was determined to remain stone-faced. The resignation and defeat in Clark during this scene elicits a sympathetic response that the public and the media denied the real Clark in 1994. It’s an expression of truth that ironically relies on fiction to relay its message. This utility makes true crime a valuable tool for analyzing and interpreting cultural events beyond the scope of news media, making fresh the trial about which we thought we knew everything.