In ESPN’s five-part 30 for 30 documentary O.J.: Made In America (2016), Ezra Edelman presents a highly polished and well-researched biographical profile of O.J. Simpson, a seemingly larger-than-life figure whose psyche was forged over time by poverty, race, talent, and celebrity. As suggested by the documentary’s title, this true crime miniseries builds its story around O.J. Simpson, and the path towards an apex that the audience already knows: the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
This focus on O.J. Simpson, the alleged perpetrator of these murders, subverts the narrative framing of many true crime television programs in a troubling way. O.J.: Made In America does not focus on the crime victims, or their families and friends, like an episode of Disappeared. Nor does it celebrate the work of the police department or the prosecutors, as would a typical episode of Forensic Files. This unusual narrative crime framing—the focus on the perpetrator, rather than the victims—points to an intriguing trend. In the last two years there have been several precedents, including the examinations of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey in Making A Murderer (Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, 2015) and Robert Durst in The Jinx (Andrew Jarecki, 2015). Why choose this narrative framing, and not another? There are questions of celebrity here as well—is the focus on these men because they were famous before, or after, allegedly committing these crimes? Also, all three miniseries have been taken seriously by audiences and critics as “higher-art” versions of true crime storytelling. Is the implication here that these “inverted,” acclaimed programs somehow transcend the offerings of the cable channel Investigation Discovery?
In some ways these “inverted” true crime programs call out for the creation of parallel texts, such as The Murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, an in-depth examination of domestic violence, police inaction, and the power and privilege attached to celebrity in the United States.