UPDATE with backstage comments: Ezra Edelman’s mammoth, 7 1/2-hour O.J.: Made In America capped off a strong awards season by winning the Best Documentary Oscar tonight. And he made sure to say during his short acceptance speech that he hoped his film would draw attention to the issues of police violence and brutality.
“[This win] is also for others, the victims of police violence, police brutality, racially motivated violence and criminal injustice,” he said onstage. “This is their story as well as Ron and Nicole’s. I am honored to accept this award on all of their behalfs.”
Originally an ESPN documentary project, the TV movie went Emmyless against FX’s O.J. Simpson vehicle, Ryan Murphy’s The People Vs. OJ Simpson. But it picked up momentum during awards season, winning Best Documentary at the National Board of Review and then sweeping the DGA Awards and PGA Awards. On Saturday it won the Best Documentary trophy at the Spirit Awards.
“Thanks to the Academy for recognizing this untraditional film,” Edelman said onstage after beating a loaded field in the category including Netflix’s Ava DuVernay project 13th, Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, Fire At Sea and Life, Animated.
He added the format was the only way he could have told the story, which mixed the saga of Simpson’s life — before, during and after his globally watched murder trial of his wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman — set against the country’s racial and political divides that surrounded it.
“I guess I’m not as young as I look,” Edelman said backstage when asked about his memories about another famous Los Angeles trial, Rodney King’s, which helped inform Made In America. “I was in high school, and that was a really seminal event for me,” the director added. “I grew up in Washington, D.C., and when that happened, it was an awakening. It was a loss of innocence, as far as how young black men are treated by police, and by the criminal justice system.”
He added about making the docu: “I definitely channeled my worldview, my relationship to O.J. before this happened, but also my experience growing up, and experiencing the world the way I did.”
Edelman was then asked about the resonance of the Simpson, which this year stemmed both his documentary and The People Vs. O.J. Simpson. “History is past, but it’s present. I can’t speak for the FX series, but I know that when we were offered the chance to make this movie, it was clear the story that was covered and told 20-something years ago, we were missing something,” he said. “We were missing the context, how we ended up where we did at that trial. It’s an American story about fundamental American themes—it’s sports, sex, murder. I think that’s why its always going to be something that fascinates us.”