The People v. O.J. Simpson: Giving Life to an Old Story

Credit: FX

Written by Emily, Erin, and Harleigh

“The People v O.J. Simpson”, a FX dramatization on Netflix giving their version of the famous O.J. trial that so many people have heard about. As a dramatization the directors and producers have creative freedom when choosing actors, which scenes to depict, and how to depict them. This freedom made it possible to show a new side to the case as well as make it relatable to current events. 

Throughout the entire dramatization, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman’s names and their right to receive justice are lost in the case during the pathos and question of racial motivations of the media. Because the only suspect for Nicole and Ron’s murders was a household name at the time O.J. Simpson, being right after his success in the NFL, the case developed into a multi media trial- it was in newspapers, on the news non stop, plastered in tabloids, and even aired live over a game in March Madness. The dramatization of this trial emphasizes, not only that because O.J. Simpson was an A-list celebrity he was treated in a different regard but also, that the victims of the case were completely lost in the cheap drama that the media and those in the trial fed into. During the white bronco chase the police were told not to shoot out the tires or physically stop him because, as Marcia Clark’s superior said, “We don’t want a shootout on live TV. We’re on every Network in the country” (The Run of His Life, 16:10). By including this conversation, the audience is shown the sway of the negative media following O.J.’s fame towards the police department and the state. 

As the murder case starts to pick up traction around the surrounding lawyer scene, Chris Darden, who at this time was just a friend of Marcia Clark not a part of the prosecution team, casually mentions “everybody’s tripping themselves to be on the celebrity case” (From the Ashes of Tragedy, 30:50). By including the phrase “celebrity case” in a normal business conversation the writer emphasizes that this case was referred to the O.J. case or the celebrity case but rarely ever the murder case or the Nicole and Ron case; this elimination of the victims names completely erasing them from the jurors, and America’s, minds. By including this omittance, the producers expressed the lack of justice for the victims and helped bring valuable background information that the audience can put towards their interpretation of the lack of justice for the victims of this case from the moment a celebrity was the only murder suspect.  

The murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and her boyfriend Ron Goldman were the afterthought of the peoples’ minds; they were more interested in what would happen to the famous football player and actor O.J. Simpson and this dramatization includes media represented as caught up in the demand for gossip on how O.J. will recover.

Music is used in the dramatization as a way to sway the viewers’ emotions and to show how the viewer should feel about certain scenes. One example of this is in episode one when the police found the bloody marks in the Bronco. When this scene was on the screen, suspense music was playing in the background signifying the importance of the blood found as well as lead the viewer to feel unsettled and anticipate what happened to have blood found in the car. The blood in the Bronco was one of the first clues to link O.J. to the murders so the suspense music also signals the mistakes O.J. possibly made. The dramatization also uses music to raise the viewers’ heart rate and excitement during certain scenes. One scene of this happening is during the Bronco car chase when the hippies see the Bronco on the road and call the police. During this scene, loud rock music is played. The rock music influences the viewer to feel excitement which makes the car chase scene more enjoyable for the viewer. Another time this technique is used is in episode 4 when the dream team walks into the courtroom and rap music is playing. This makes the entrance more dramatic which creates more excitement for the viewer and makes the entrance seem more impressive. Most people like to side with those they find impressive so by having the dream team walk in with a rap song the viewer is more inclined to root for the defense. The rap song played is “Black Superman” and the lyrics playing during this scene are about crime-fighting, linking these lyrics to the defense implies that the defense team is fighting the crimes the police did when they defend O.J. Interestingly though when the lyrics say black superman the camera focuses on Darden possibly implying that Darden is the actual person who is on the side of justice, not the defense, unlike what Johnnie wants to believe.

Music is not only used as a way for the viewer to relate to what is playing on the screen but also as a source of comedy. In episode one when the police arrive to take O.J. to the police station “I shall be released is playing” for the rest of the episode. This song is added in as a source of irony because O.J. will be released by the end of the trial. The song playing in episode one is also a way to foreshadow the outcome in episode 10 when O.J. is released from jail. The dramatization knows that most of the audience watching this series would already know details about the O.J. case so this song is ironic to the viewer who already knows the outcome of the trial. It is like the series gives a nod to the viewers’ expectations.

O.J. is the character that most of the deliberate sound choices focus on to give insight into how he was feeling, especially in episode 10. When O.J. is listening to the jury verdict the sound is muffled indicating the shock he was feeling. The muffled sound also indicates that O.J. was feeling a dissonance from what was going on, which could be caused by the sheer relief he was feeling. In this scene because the sound was morphed the viewer gained an understanding of how the character was feeling at that time, more so than what the actor was able to portray. Another time music was used to show O.J.’s feelings was at the end of the series when O.J. walked out of the party. During this scene, the song “Sad and Free” was playing. This song adds an emphasis to the conclusion the viewer was already reaching, because of the trial O.J. was alone and therefore sad but he was free and declared not guilty. This is a contradiction that the song displays so clearly and the dramatization wants to show that even though O.J. might have been declared not guilty; he still lost much of what he had before the trial.

Casting choices in the film industry is one of the most difficult decisions made by producers and directors. Casting can make or break any production. The actors that are chosen have to meet a certain criterion, they have to fit the vision in which the director envisions. They have to encompass these characters in ways to make them appear real. This becomes exceptionally hard when filming a dramatization of something that happened in our society, because a director is no longer trying to fill a personal mold they have created and envisioned, they are now having to find someone to fit a mold in which they already exist. They are required to mimic the mannerisms and looks of a live individual, not just an imaginary character. Ryan Murphy, director of “The People vs. O.J Simpson” was able to find two incredibly talented individuals to fit into the preexisting molds of the people responsible for the O.J Simpson case; Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, and John Travolta as Robert Shapiro.

Marcia Clark was the lead prosecutor in the O.J Simpson case. While watching this dramatization, the audience can infer that Marcia Clark is a strong-willed and determined individual with a backbone made of steel. She is portrayed by Sarah Paulson. During the time in which this series was being announced and planned, Paulson was known strictly for acting in a fiction horror show called American Horror Story, a series in which she played strange, off-putting characters with a history far darker than most. With the use of Paulson in this dramatization directors were able to capture the audience’s attention. The audience knew that Paulson could essentially pull off a fictional character and bring them to life but had no way of inferring that she could play a non-fictional character and embody the personality and drive in which Marcia Clark has. This was a tactic which snared the audience’s attention, almost tauntingly encouraging others to see Paulson either succeed or fail. Paulson was also chosen based on the sole fact that she looks very similar to the real-life Marcia Clark. They have the same build, and with curly hair Paulson could easily pass as a relative of Marcia. 

Robert Shapiro was the lead defense lawyer for O.J Simpson and is portrayed by John Travolta. When the audience hears John Travolta, nine times out of 10, they’re going to think of Grease. Travolta is known for his sweet, easily loved characters he portrayed in many of his fictional films, such as Danny from Grease, or Bud from Urban Cowboy. The director’s choosing John Travolta is an odd choice solely because Shapiro is not the kind of character we usually see Travolta playing. Shapiro is a self-centered, attention hungry individual and is hard to like as an individual, which is not a normal John Travolta role. The director’s choice is again a challenge to the audience to see if Travolta can pull off such a character and if he can display the arrogance and immaturity of this human being. Also, like Paulson to Marcia, Travolta looks very similar to Shapiro, granted not identical but looking at them side by side, it is easy to see why Travolta was able to snag the role solely based on his looks. 

Ryan Murphy—director—did a fantastic job in choosing actors who resembled the characters in which they played. He also was able to snare the audience’s attention with his non-traditional picks, by picking actors the audience never would have guessed would play these roles. 

“The People vs. O.J Simpson” is a widely known case, from the bronco chase to the leather gloves. It is a case that everyone at least as heard a snippet about and Ryan Murphy was able to bring together the use of pathos, music and casting choices to bring this horrible crime, and renown case to life once more, and put into a format that younger generations could enjoy as well as the generations that we around to see the televised clips from the real-life case.

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