“The People v. O.J Simpson” ignites controversy, ratings


Photo from official FX Network website

Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as O.J Simpson.

Joe DeNardo, Chief Editor

While FX’s smash-hit The People v. O.J Simpson: American Crime Story is quite compelling and entertaining, its over-arching theme is not only controversial, but disgraceful.

This is the second article I’ve written on the topic of the infamous murder trial involving the former NFL great, but now the issue at hand has a modern twist.

The issue is the first four episodes of the show premiered in the month of February.

February is of course when we celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans in the tradition of Black History Month.

Now I know nothing about scheduling of television premieres, but it doesn’t seem right—especially this day in age—to present the first four episodes of a show depicting perhaps the most well-known fall from grace in American history in the very beginning of the month meant to celebrate accomplishments of great black Americans.

“The People v. O.J” does the right thing by not showing a definite bias towards either the defendant or prosecution—in fact it’s fair to say they are balanced in screen-time and presentation of characters.

But just the thought that a show depicting a group of flashy lawyers trying to clear the name of a once beloved black man by “pulling the race card” and treating the judicial system like a train robbery isn’t how I think Black History Month was meant to be celebrated.

The show is great—an intense edge-of-your seat courtroom drama—but it’s also real.

Not to mention still fresh in the minds of the American people, these events all took place around twenty years ago, and everyone had an opinion.

History and government teacher Ryan Pubentz, who was barely a freshman in high school during the trial, is reliving the iconic moments with each passing episode.

“I’ve seen every episode so far,” Pubentz said. “It’s an intense show and it gives a glimpse of how big a deal it was to those who didn’t live through it.

“My students are actually learning about the judicial system in AP Government right now,” Pubentz said. “This is the trial that people still talk about to this day.”

In short, the reputation of Black History Month is being gutted by a network that cares more about ratings than the exploitative properties their show possesses.

So why is there not more of an outcry over the show?

The fact that O.J is in jail for armed robbery doesn’t help—as the program often shows how African-Americans supported Simpson originally, but since he’s behind bars it’s harder to advocate for his rights.

But still there isn’t justification for the shows timeliness.

Wouldn’t it have been even more advantageous for FX to premiere the show in the fall season?

Or perhaps in early June—to give the images of the Bronco chase and O.J’s driveway an even eerier feel?

Unfortunately they chose to go with a month when there was a distinct Tuesday night lull they could grasp—even if it meant being totally insensitive to those who want to exhibit pride for all the great things African Americans have accomplished.

It doesn’t matter at this point—February is drawing a close and the show is still atop many must-see lists.

Hopefully the insensitivity will be recognized and this shows premiere will be seen for what it truly is: A cash-grab at the expense of what once was a respected civil rights tradition.