Ezra Edelman - Drawing Parallels Between Then & Now in "O.J.: Made in America" - Extended Interview

February 16, 2017 - Ezra Edelman 02/16/2017 Views: 29,517

"O.J.: Made in America" director Ezra Edelman talks about what made him interested in the O.J. Simpson murder case and explains the trial's impact on celebrity culture. (8:24)

Watch Full Episode

Please welcome Ezra Edelman.

(cheering and applause)

Welcome to the show.

Great to be here.

First of all, congratulationson your Oscar nomination.

-Thank you.-That is exciting.

And I think it is reallywell-deserved.

Quick question, how did you getan Oscar nod?

Because doesn't it have to bein a theater?

And this is, like-- how longis this in total?

Is it eight hours?

Almost eight hours,seven hours and 47 minutes.

So it's a short, short film.

-By today's standards, yeah.-Yes.

But, I mean, uh, so was itin a movie at any point?

Oh, yeah, yeah. It did, uh,it aired--

-I mean, it was in theatersfor-- in May, -Oh, wow.

-in both New York and LosAngeles. -How do people

watch it in, like... ?

-It's created in three parts.-Okay, cool, all right, cool.

-And so if you go see it there'stwo intermissions. -Oh.

Two 15 minute intermissions.

It's a, it's a nice dayat the movies.

You know what?Can I tell you?

I've honestly not watchedmany stories

that can hold you as muchas this story does,

for as long,without you feeling it.

It's-it's an amazing story

because it doesn't just talkabout O.J.

Everyone almost knowsthe O.J. story,

but nobody knew the O.J. story.

Let's talk about the framingand what you realize in this.

You talk about how O.J.and what happened to him

could not be separated with how,especially in Los Angeles,

black peoplewere dealing with race,

and with the policeand the way they were treated.

Did you know this when youstarted the documentary,

or was it somethingyou discovered

as you were making the film?

It's why I wanted to makethe documentary.

I feel like whenyou watch documentaries

and other things that have beendone about O.J.,

you get this regurgitationof the trial,

and of the murder,and you maybe get a clip

of Rodney King getting beaten,

and O.J. runningwith a football.

And that's the context you get.

But when you look at the issues

that were brought to bearin the trial,

and sort of what ended uphappening in terms of

how we aligned ourselveswith him during the trial,

why people responded the waythey did to the verdict.

It all has antecedence in thisvery real historical context

for African Americansin Los Angeles

and in the country as a whole.

And so for me, it was, I'mtelling these two stories,

because you need to understandthat history.

You need to emotionally engagewith the struggle of people

to get why peoplewere so aligned

with him during the trial.

It's-it's interestingthat you bring that up,

because a lot of peopleremember it

as black people that day

-were cheering for O.J...-Right.

...because he got awaywith murder.

You arguesomething different, though.

Well, I mean...

they weren'tcheering a guy who went...

you know, a murderer going free.

They were cheering, you know,

for a victoryin the criminal justice system,

which, historically,in Los Angeles,

has not been fair.

They were sort of...And that-that

-speaks to everythingthat the trial became. -Yeah.

And so it was not ch...I mean, that's, again,

it's almost like...I... Immediately, I'm thinking

of the Chris Rock joke--

-"Black people too happy,white people too sad." -Yeah.

And, you know, the senseis that, no, there was

a profound misunderstanding,even to this day,

when people look atthat reaction, they go,

"How could they be cheeringa murderer going free?"

That's notwhat they were cheering.

This was a moment.As they s... As, uh, uh,

Reverend Murray says in the doc.

You know, you don'tget these moments very often.

So when you s...When you-when you get a moment,

-seize the moment.-Yeah...

Here's what w... it was, though,it was-it was a moment.

And when you-when youlook at that story,

you go, "This was insane,and for so many reasons."

One was...I feel like it could be argued

that O.J. was the reason,or the O.J. Simpson trial

was the reasonwe have 24-hour news today.

Like, that was the first timenews broke into sports,

for instance.That was the first time

they reported on somethingalmost 24 hours a day.

What...Like, did you realize that

as you were making the film?

I mean, I think I realized thatjust by, you know,

-on the one hand,just living through it, -Yeah.

like we all did in the time.And when you see what...

That-that was definitelya transformational event

in our culture, you know,when, again, the new...

You think about all these showsthat we have.

-All of a sudden we are coveringthis trial every day. -Yeah.

We're figuring out a wayto come up with stories

that were, you know,titillating in some form.

It's when, really,the news became business

and not just news,because this was a story

that spoke to everythingthat we lose our minds over

in American society.It was a story about murder

and sex and it's sportsand it's celebrity.

And that's whatwe sort of ended up focusing on,

versus, "Oh, no, there isa real criminal trial here

about these bigger issues."And...

So, yeah, I mean,I think that when you say

that's whenthe 24-hour news cycle began,

I think that's a very, um,real thing that did happen.

W... You know, you know, whenyou look at it and when you...

when you watch the story,are there moments

where you can draw parallelsbetween what happened with O.J.

and, to a certain extent,what we're seeing now? You know?

-Because-because you talkabout... -When you say "now,"

-what-what does that mean?-W... Well, with the...

with the president of the UnitedStates. With the, um...

I don't know if you noticed,there's a guy,

-um...-A-a narcissist?

There's a... there's a...I-I don't know what he is.

-I, uh...-A sociopath?

-A Donald Trump is what he is.-A Donald Trump. Yeah.

Yeah, but-but, I mean,you look at that story...

Everything you said there--you know, you said...

you said "titillating,"you said these stories

of sex and celebrityand-and crime and so on--

and you look at Donald Trump'slife, and, in many ways,

that's what Donald Trump's lifehas been.

It's been that played outin the public.

You know, it's him and Ivana,and it's...

You know,is there domestic abuse?

The stories, the allegations,the money, the fame.

And people again seem to be...

You know, they seemto find that appealing.

Well, you know, in essence,it's a guy

who has been in the public eyefor 30, 35 years...

-Yeah.-...culminating most recently

and most prominentlyin the being the host

of a reality television show.

And in some ways, it's like,"Wait. We're failing upwards?"

Like, oh, be a realitytelevision host.

You get to be president.

And so in O.J.'s case,

it's, like, okay,you get to become a star

-because you werethis incredible athlete. -Yeah.

And then, becauseyou're this incredible athlete

who is that good-lookingand that charming,

then you're a commercialpitch man.

And thenyou're a Hollywood star.

And the relationshipthat we have towards...

I mean, again, there is clearlyan antecedent in Trump

-in the story of O.J. in termsof celebrity worship. -Mm-hmm.

You know, and when you look at,most damningly for me,

in the last part of the film,

and you seehow people treated O.J.

-even after he was on trialfor murder... -Yeah.

...even after he had been foundresponsible in a civil trial,

in civil courtfor those murders,

you still have peoplecoming up to him in the airport,

wanting to touch him,wanting his autograph,

wanting a hug,and you're going like, "Why?

"Oh, because he's famous?

'Cause I saw him on TVevery day during that trial?"

I mean, there is a storyabout the scourge of celebrity

and sort of the failingof our values in this.

That sort of I seeplaying out with Trump.

Is there any antidote?

I mean, we live in that now.

Oh, yeah, I mean, we do.We... we live in that now.

We watch it all the time.You-you can't deny the...

Like, you can't even escape it.You go... just like with O.J.,

you go,"I'm not gonna watch this,"

and it is in everything.

You watch the Grammys,it's in somebody's performance

or in their speech,you watch sports, they tell you,

"Oh, the Patriots are down,but they have the same chance

at winning as Donald Trump did."

You know, you see everythinggoing back to Donald Trump.

So can we escape?Is it too far?

Is there a solution?



I mean, look...

One thing I am heartened by...

look, we madean eight-hour movie.

And in this sort of, uh, age of,you know, increasingly, um,

-small, short attention spans...-Yeah.

people have engaged,people have watched it.

You know, they might have cometo the movie

because they wanted to seethe Bronco chase,

they wanted to see a movieabout murder and sex.

But, you know, we told a story

about thisreally fraught history

between the black community

and the Los AngelesPolice Department.

We told thisreally important story

about race in America,about celebrity in America,

about identity,about domestic abuse,

aboutthe criminal justice system.

And people watched it.

And that-that says something.

And so I'm gonna hang my haton that.

You've done a great job.

-(cheering)-I really appreciate it, man.

O.J.: Made in America can currently be seen

on WatchESPN and Hulu.

Ezra Edelman, everybody.

-♪ -Thank you.-(cheering, applause)

All Shows