Op-Ed: The Pros And Cons Of OJ: Made in America

By Eartha Watts Hicks, Harlem World magazine editor-in-chief

Congratulations to Brooklyn resident, producer/director Ezra Edelman and to his partner in film, producer Caroline Waterlow. OJ: Made in America (filmed for ESPN) is the winner of the 2017 Oscar for Documentary (Feature). I watched the OJ: Made in America documentary in its entirety, an 8-hour stretch that ran me through the gamut of emotions.


I was surprised, amused, impressed, disgusted, honored, proud, amazed, disturbed, disappointed, surprised, justifying, in denial, ashamed, and sorry. I’m exhausted…and I was just watching the film.

Black Life in America is complex…at best. But when the dollars rain down, we cannot be so focused on where the money is coming from that we lose sight on from whence we, ourselves actually hail. OJ’s civil rights a/k/a black solidarity era I-ain’t-got’no-nickel-in-that-dime attitude made him perfect fodder for when the stuff hit the fan. His proclamations of “I’m not black. I’m OJ” could easily make him seem yellow to those who were not smitten by his charm and striking good looks.

I’m guilty. A child of the seventies, I have no recollection of any such claims. The oldest OJ file in my memory bank is of my large group of family members watching the Roots (1977) TV miniseries, and my mother and aunts all screaming holy praises about the FINE half-naked man in hot pursuit, but not able to catch, Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) as he ran through an African village.


After, seeing OJ’s life play out in highlights, I was more sad than angry. More disappointed, than judgmental. OJ is but one human being, another black man who grew up dirt-poor, streetwise, smooth talking, hungry but full of ambition. He was determined to be exceptional and his focus (initially) was ensuring his family was well taken care of. While, focusing on being the absolute best, he had tunnel vision. But with success and fame come the allure of the fantasy: always being surrounded by beautiful women, adoration of opportunists, carte blanche. These are stressors disguised as perks. We all—the unknown, famous, and infamous—need true friends who can tell us the entire truth. Otherwise, we too might start believing our own press, embodying a persona, and transforming into a being we never had the intention of becoming.

Orenthal James Simpson had always been, gorgeous, intelligent, charming, gifted, generous, well-mannered, focused, ambitious…loved. Who, at their prime, can imagine that ‘well’ ever running dry? Unfortunately, who we become when we have everything and who we become when we have nothing at all—is evidence that is far more telling than any labels we inherit and whatever consequences we endure.

What do you think?

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