Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Black and What? American Crime Story

The good guys (mostly) in the film. The public and media
generally disliked and derided District Attorney Marcia Clark throughout
the OJ trial. 
We've just finished watching the Netflix dramatisation of the OJ case and trial The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story that won a bunch of Emmys earlier this month and deservedly so; it's seriously powerful TV.

And what a story! You could never invent it and yet it is so telling of the human experience, especially in America. But somehow we, those who write stories that try to be realistic, cannot quite bring ourselves to admit that there are no actual heroes, black or white, and so our stories lack that truth edge that makes this series so gripping, and, too, so very sad in reminding us what a deeply prejudiced world we live in - like we needed reminding. Actually, incredibly, it seems we still do.

I remember the trial well and how seeing the footage of the hordes of 'Not Guilty' protesters before the verdict, especially the women, made my blood boil, and I think pushed me down the road to writing a PhD on domestic violence and homicide, which I began the year after the trial (and which nearly killed me).

Spoiler alert: The fact that the mostly black jury came back with their not-guilty verdict in record quick time - they were expecting it to take weeks and it took four hours - was also a shattering blow for me at the time, and I expect for any woman who feels that our lives (and brutal deaths) have always mattered less than the lives of men, whatever our skin colour, though Ron Goldman's family felt the series didn't do his life and death justice. But Ron was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The case wasn't, to be fair, about him. Whereas it was about Nicole, who had been a victim of OJ's violence for many years and had run to the police on many occasions terrified for her life - which was all on record - but they never did anything to punish OJ and so he killed her, as she knew he would. So the racism of the LAPD was not in full force through all those years then, it seems. And Nicole's story is the battered woman's story the world over, black and white, rich and poor, but still we keep letting it happen, though it leaves children without mothers the world over, surely the worst outcome for everybody.

But for black women the OJ case was clearly much more about racism than sexism, or the leaving of two young (half black) children without a mother. I am not black, so I can't relate to that and the case was clearly about sexism and its devastating consequences for me. But perhaps that is my prejudice. I don't think it is but I guess it's hard to be sure. All I know for sure is that I am a woman and that I want to stand up for those women of all races who get a raw deal when it comes to male violence against them.

But the trial wasn't about sexism or gender. The trial was about race and racism, which the series shows well. The extent to which black men and women (in the general public, on the jury and on the defence's legal team) identified with OJ was clearly enough to systematically sabotage the trial to make a point about the racism of the LAPD and the USA more broadly. It was also aimed at making sure a clearly guilty black man didn't go to prison for a brutal double homicide (of a white woman and man), even though that rich black man had way more friends in the police force and rich white community than he had in the black community.

Watching this trial in 2017 and knowing what has happened since, I can't help thinking that this framing of the case did not do those in the black community in the US any favours, although maybe it helped politicise them, which in turn might have helped elect Obama, which was clearly a good thing for the black community - and many others. Maybe it even politicised Obama (along with the Rodney King trial and riots, which Netflix shows footage of at the start of the series); I don't know. I would really like to find out what he and Michelle, both lawyers, made of the trial and series.

Bottom line, I think we all need to see ourselves as clearly and honestly as possible and this series does that as well as any I've seen. We, humankind - as symbolised here by the people of all skin colours who live in the country known as the leader of the free world - are clearly profoundly racist and sexist and they/we don't have to be. I think the series shows us this too, and in this way gives us all some hope that we can be better - and we must.

Certainly, it seems very timely.

Thmerican Crime Story

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