For Filmmakers, O.J. Simpson’s Trial Was a Powerful Case Study

More than 20 years after the O.J. Simpson trial, long after the headlines had faded and the news cycle had moved on to other scandals, the polarizing saga was thrust back into the national conversation thanks to two very different projects.

“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” an FX mini-series directed by Ryan Murphy, won nine Emmys in 2016. That year’s “O.J.: Made in America,” a nearly eight-hour film for ESPN, won the Academy Award for best documentary feature.

“It was a story that combined everything that obsesses the American people,” the legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the day after Simpson died at 76. Toobin’s 1996 book, “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” inspired the FX series.

Toobin said the Simpson odyssey captivated the country’s psyche. There was love, violence, sports and Hollywood. Even a fugitive on the run.

Simpson had been a star football player, winning the Heisman Trophy in college and the Most Valuable Player Award in the N.F.L. But for many people, his athletic highlights are overshadowed by a highway chase involving a white Ford Bronco and murder charges in the 1994 deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald L. Goldman.

As Americans followed the nine-month trial, their perception of the criminal case against Simpson, a prominent Black athlete who became an actor and a pitchman, was often split along racial lines. Simpson was acquitted in the criminal case and was later found liable for the deaths in a civil trial.

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