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Slate's Culture Blog

Feb. 9 2016 10:05 PM

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Episode 2 of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story?

When I decided to undertake a fact-check of FX’s The People v O.J. Simpson, I figured it would be an exercise in catching the creators in embarrassing deviations from the truth. Instead, the experience of simultaneously watching the show and reading the book it’s based on, Jeff Toobin’s The Run of His Life, has mostly just left me impressed with the volume of details the show gets painstakingly right. More than anything it reminds me of seeing a movie with subtitles in a language you happen to know—you read the translations for fun, and you feel a little thrill from knowing that you’re picking up on stuff other people in the audience aren’t privy to.

My “methods” are not remotely exhaustive—lord knows there are innumerable books, articles, and court documents I could read if I really wanted to, and plenty of people who would dispute this or that aspect of Toobin’s version of events. The prosecutor Marcia Clark, for instance, told New York last week that Toobin was wrong to have portrayed her and her colleagues in the D.A.’s office as being taken by surprise when Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochrane, O.J.’s lawyers, made race a centerpiece of their case.

I’m not trying to litigate that. I’m just trying to find out some crazy facts about the O.J. Simpson trial! To that end, let’s dive in to Episode 2.

Bruce Greenwood and Gil Garcetti.
Bruce Greenwood and Gil Garcetti.

Photo illustration by Slate. Imagses by FX and Lucy Nicholson/Getty Images

O.J.’s suicide note

Maybe the best detail that doesn’t appear in the show is that Robert Kardashian went to great lengths to correct and smooth out the very poorly composed suicide note that O.J. Simpson left for his fans. In the press conference during which Kardashian read the letter out loud—you can see it on YouTube—he opens his recitation as follows: “First, everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole’s murder. I loved her, always have and always will.” 

What O.J.’s letter actually said, according to Toobin, was: “First everyone understand nothing to do with Nicole’s murder. I loved her, allways have always will.” 

That’s all subject to one big [sic], of course. But that’s not even the point. The point is that, incredibly, O.J. left out the words “I had.” And while the omission could be dismissed as a mere typo, it seems like fair-game for interpretation considering it happened while O.J. was trying to forcefully deny his involvement in the murder. As Toobin puts it, “it is tempting to infer some psychological significance from Simpson’s failure to render correctly this most important sentence of his letter.” 

Robert Kardashian

The Toobin book has some lovely background information on Robert Kardashian that, so far at least, we haven’t gotten much of in the show. For instance: After law school, he quit being a lawyer almost right away, and started a music magazine that he later sold his stake in for a cool $3 million. Also: “At the time of the murders he was running Movie Tunes, a company that played music in movie theaters between shows.”

The bigger picture on Kardashian, as portrayed by David Schwimmer, is so far on-point: In the show as in the book, he comes across as a hangdog yes-man who worshipped O.J. and clung to their friendship with something approaching desperation. In Sept. 1994, Toobin reports, Kardashian got into a conflict with the executive vice president of Movie Tunes when he signed the guy’s name to a full-page ad in some trade publication blaring the words “JUSTICE FOR THE JUICE.” The executive quit Movie Tunes in protest and later told the Hollywood Reporter, “Robert’s commitment to this case has overwhelmed every other corner of his life.”

The Bronco Chase

My favorite moment in Episode 2 happens after A.C. tells the 911 dispatcher that O.J. has a gun to his head, and she replies, “Is everything else OK?” In the show, this hilarious question is met with indignation: A.C., played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner, screams out, “What?! No! What kind of stupid ass question is that? Everything is terrible!” According to Toobin, A.C.’s reaction was a little more subdued in real life: “Everything right now is okay, Officer,” he is quoted as saying. “Everything is okay. He wants me to get him to his mom. He wants me to get him to his house.”

O.J.’s surrender

The stand-off that took place in front of O.J.’s house, during which it was unclear to the millions of people watching on live TV whether O.J. was about to kill himself, went a little differently in reality than it does on the show.

First off, Nicole Brown’s dog is improperly left out of the scene, which makes it twice now that the creators of this show have trampled over the dog’s truth. Per Toobin, Nicole’s Akita “wandered around the Bronco as O.J  and A.C. lingered inside it.” (Side note: the dog was originally named after Kato Kaelin, but O.J.’s son Jason changed it to Satchmo after Nicole’s death.)

Second, the show portrays the crucial pre-surrender conversation as taking place between O.J. and Robert Kardashian, but in truth the main negotiator was Pete Weireter of the LAPD’s SWAT team. And finally, the thing that got A.C. to leave the Bronco was not O.J.’s go-ahead but the fact that he needed a new battery for his cell phone. It so happened that not long after A.C. got out of the car to run this errand, O.J. himself emerged and turned himself in.

Al Cowlings and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
Al Cowlings and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

John EMMONS

And now, a lightning round:

Is it true that O.J. asked for a glass of orange juice after he surrendered?

Mixed report here: The Toobin book does say that O.J. drank some orange juice after he entered his house, but all it says is that the chief of the SWAT unit gave it to him, so we don’t quite know that O.J. asked for it. (We do know he liked orange juice enough to shill for it: According to the L.A. Times, he was a pitchman for a juice-maker called TreeSweet Products throughout the second half of the 1980s. Later, O.J. was “advised by doctors to stop drinking orange juice because its acidity was harmful to his arthritic knee.” You can watch one of the old spots here.)

Did O.J. and A.C. really take the Ford Bronco to Nicole’s gravesite after they absconded from O.J.’s house?

Probably not, but at the very least they thought about it. In the deposition he gave in his civil case, Simpson said he and Cowlings had pulled off the freeway to go to the cemetery, but decided to skip it when they saw the police had staked it out.

Did the 911 call that led police to the Bronco really take place near the forking of Interstate 5 and the 405?

Yep. According to Toobin, the call was made by a couple near the El Toro Y interchange, which was about five and a half minutes away from Nicole’s gravesite. One funny liberty the showmakers took is that they made the young man who called the Bronco in look like he was mainly bemused by the sighting; in reality, according to Toobin, he told the dispatcher, “We looked at [A.C.], you know, and he like stared us down, like he was death.” You can kind of understand why the creators cut this—it would have been a bit much, even for this show.

At one point someone in the D.A.’s office jokes that the Bronco chase was “the world’s longest Ford Bronco commercial.” Did it actually help sales?

According to USA Today it might have—Ford sold more than 37,000 Broncos in 1994, which was 7,000 more than they’d sold the year before—but it wasn’t enough to save the car from being discontinued two years later. (A spokesperson told USA Today that Ford “had decided to move away from the two-door, two-row, large SUV … long before O.J. made it a celebrity.”)

Is it true that NBC tore away from coverage of the NBA finals to show the chase?

Yes—that is not the sort of thing this show would make up. It was Game 5 of the Knicks vs. the Rockets, and the game was still going on by the time O.J. surrendered. The Knicks won by 7.

Did A.C. really scream, “You know who this is, goddamnit!” when he called 911?

Yeah, it seems like he did. Though Toobin has the line as, “You know who I am, goddamnit!”   

Was “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys really playing during the climactic moments of the Bronco chase?

Alas, this one is unknowable. But let’s just say yes.   

Feb. 9 2016 4:07 PM

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels Are Coming to Television

Pop open the Prosecco: Elena Ferrante’s spellbinding quartet of Neapolitan novels is coming to TV. Per the Hollywood Reporter, Fandango Productions has joined forces with the Italian production company Wildside to create a 32 (!) episode series based on the well-loved books. (You may recognize Fandango Productions as the force behind the TV adaptation of the mob drama Gomorrah, which, in an encouraging sign, was praised for being remarkably deft.) Four eight-part seasons, one for each novel, will tell the story of Elena and Lila, two working class women whose lives intertwine during the latter half of the 20th century.

Amid all the rejoicing—Ferrante fever hasn’t abated since the author’s final novel, The Story of the Lost Child, arrived in the US in late 2015—a few questions leap out. When will the series air? (TBD, according to the Guardian.) Isn’t 32 kind of a lot of episodes for such an intense and concentrated narrative? (Or is it perfect for fleshing out the books’ many dimensions: personal, social, political?) How will the showrunners handle casting, given that Lila and Elena must start as children and grow into old age? Will they be able to successfully translate such language-driven storytelling into a visual medium?

If the producers get this right, they will tap into an ardent literary fandom as well as TV audiences thirsty for sophisticated soaps. (See: Empire, Jane the Virgin, all of Shondaland.) Oh, and the mysterious Elena Ferrante herself has reportedly agreed to consult on the series, which may help it stay true to its source’s mood and menace. 

Feb. 9 2016 3:00 PM

Macklemore Gave a Powerful Performance of “White Privilege II,” but the Best Part Was When He Disappeared

On Monday night’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and a team of poets and musicians delivered a dramatic performance of “White Privilege II”—the song Macklemore released last month as an express reaction to the appropriation controversy around him and, importantly, an effort to direct attention back to the social issues that underlie it.

The performance opens with Macklemore rapping emotionally from beneath a spotlight on a starkly lit stage, backed lightly by trumpet, piano, and a choir. “I’ve heard that silences are action,” goes one line, followed by the rapper’s regretful admission that he has reacted too passively to racism. But it’s his eventual silence here that lends the performance its power, as Macklemore cedes the stage mid-song to a succession of other voices—black voices—who speak forcefully and eloquently on their own behalf.

First, poet Nikkita Oliver delivers a stirring monologue about black pride, empowerment, and liberation, and poet Danez Smith invokes the activism of Huey P. Newton and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the murders of Emmett Till, Jordan Davis, Tamir Rice, and Islan Nettles. “Because enough,” he repeats. Poet-singer Jamila Woods then brings it home beautifully, singing “Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury” as the choir and instruments swell around her.

Feb. 9 2016 2:01 PM

Oscar Winners Will No Longer Have to Worry About Forgetting Who to Thank Onstage

A few years ago, Slate imagined a myriad of ways to make the Oscars infinitely better, while also soliciting input from readers. Among them was the proposal from user John Sternfeld for a scroll: “Thank yous should run across the bottom of the screen, CNN-like, during the acceptance speech. Every nominee submits their thank you list beforehand on disc and then when they win, it starts running.”

Well, Sternfeld is in luck! Academy Awards producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill have announced that this year’s telecast will feature said scroll, and at the annual nominees lunch on Monday, guests were asked to list the names of the people they wish to thank. As Hudlin and Hill pointed out, the change will help to give more time for winners to say what they’d like aside name-checking. This will be especially useful when multiple people win the same award: As Entertainment Weekly reported, Hudlin and Hill pointed to Best Short Documentary winners Dana Perry and Ellen Goosenberg Kent for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. The former had only a few seconds following Kent's thank yous to hurriedly relay her very personal connection to her work—that of her son’s own suicide.

This is also ostensibly a way to reinforce good will within the industry: With the new implementation, colleagues and family members alike who are connected to the winners and expecting to be thanked will no longer have to worry about not making the time restraint cut or being forgotten. (Though I guess if you still don’t see your name among the list of that pre-planned scroll, then you’ll know where you and that Oscar winner really stand.) Sylvester Stallone must be breathing a deep sigh of relief right about now.

Feb. 9 2016 1:30 PM

Hingle McCringleberry Still Won’t Stop Pelvis-Thrusting in This New Key & Peele (& Colbert) Sketch

That Hingle McCringleberry just can’t help himself. Yesterday we saw the latest chapter in the hilarious battle of wits between Keegan-Michael Key’s McCringleberry—a football player whose post-touchdown celebratory impulses know no bounds—and Jordan Peele’s nameless, no-nonsense referee, who simply will not abide a third hip pump. 

Well, we didn’t have to wait long for a rematch, as Stephen Colbert unveiled yet another edition on last night’s Late Show. Once again, Colbert joins “sports journalists” Key and Peele as the play-by-play announcer and as McCringleberry’s Tigers teammate, Kimble Mathias. Together, they test the ref’s patience like never before: a Superman mime, a painting of nudes, a Viking funeral, and more.  

Feb. 9 2016 12:25 PM

Samantha Bee Tore Apart a State Senator’s Sexist Dress Code on Her Full Frontal Debut

In one of the first segments of her new political comedy show, Full Frontal, Samantha Bee wasted no time in reminding us why we need women in late-night. In the first entry in a (hopefully) recurring segment called “Elected Paperweight of the Month,” Bee lampooned Kansas State Senator Mitch Holmes for drawing up a dress code for the state capital targeted only at women—despite the far more pressing issues facing the state, such as having to close schools early last year due to a lack of funds.

Bee pointed out Holmes’ history of “controlling women and celebrating the groups that exclude them” before breaking down just how ludicrous the idea—and Holmes’ subsequent explanations of it—really are.

Feb. 9 2016 11:59 AM

Why Sarah Koenig’s Serial Season 1 Updates From Adnan’s Trial Are So Frustrating

Serial is still a good podcast. The sixth episode of the second season, “Five O’ Clock Shadow,” ably tackled two complicated and arresting questions—what Bowe Bergdahl was like as a soldier, and whether his company was cursed with toxic leadership. Maybe a world bereft of collect calls from North Branch Correctional Facility has cruelly extinguished your Pavlovian response to the Stitcher icon on a Thursday morning. But give Season 2 a chance and you will—still, I promise!—hear a well-written script unfolding a nuanced, interesting, occasionally funny, frequently moving narrative.

But so far, the Adnan trial mini-updates are a different story. When Sarah Koenig announced that she would be reporting from Adnan's trial and recording updates to Serial Season 1, I was so excited. We all were. We tapped our feeds, the rainspatter plink of the old theme seduced our ears, and apprehensions of Christina Gutierrez surfaced from the deep like a terrible fish. And then? Well, it became clear that these bite-sized recaps—about 15 minutes a pop—of Syed’s hearing for post-conviction relief were running on fumes. Specifically, on the fumes of listener loyalty and curiosity from season one. The new episodes are mewls of impotence, not triumphant returns. They play to exactly none of Serial’s strengths.

Feb. 9 2016 11:19 AM

The First Full Fuller House Trailer Is a ’90s Nostalgia Bonanza

We’re less than a month away from the premiere of Netflix’s Fuller House, and now the official trailer has landed. In the trailer, which aired on Ellen, DJ (Candace Cameron Bure) moves back into her old house, daunted by the prospect of raising her three boys on her own after recently losing her husband. Of course, in the Tanner family, one is never alone—Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) offers to move in and help out, and soon after, so does DJ’s lifelong best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber).

The trailer is our lengthiest look at the new series yet, and so far it seems like there will be a lot of ’90s nostalgia, cornball moments, and classic catchphrases ahead. The series premieres on Netflix Feb. 26.

Feb. 9 2016 10:24 AM

Jessica Williams Took Down Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Critics on The Daily Show    

This weekend was good for football fans, but great for Beyoncé fans, as the artist surprise-dropped a new single—complete with music video—right before delivering a killer Super Bowl halftime performance and announcing a world tour. The “Formation” video and halftime performance that followed were some of Beyoncé’s most overtly political work yet, with references to the Black Lives Matter movement, Hurricane Katrina, and the Black Panthers. But not everyone was a fan: Rudy Giuliani, for instance, called for more “wholesome” Super Bowl performances.

But on Monday night's Daily Show, Jessica Williams destroyed such criticisms one by one. “I didn’t realize that singing about race was equivalent to Janet Jackson getting her titty pulled out at the Super Bowl,” Williams said. “But you’re right … the fans deserve wholesome entertainment. Like watching 300-pound men give each other concussions while a crowd cheers like we’re extras in the movie Gladiator.”    

Feb. 9 2016 9:02 AM

The Curious Decline of Paul Mooney

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

In his youth, Paul Mooney was a dancer. And you can see it, too, in vintage clips from the ‘80s, in the lithe, graceful way he carried himself onstage during his comedy sets. Even as he entered middle age and beyond, and even after he took to performing while seated, Mooney had a dignified, almost regal bearing—no matter that he was, as always, laying waste to any notions of political correctness or politesse. “Kill every white person on this planet,” he said bluntly in his 2012 special, The Godfather of Comedy.“To end racism, that’s the only way.”

Today, that dancer’s elegance is almost entirely gone, replaced by a slumped and diminished figure with a rambling, uncertain delivery. The 74-year-old is still touring, though whether he should be is an open question. It’s a troubling state in which to witness one of the most important and underappreciated comics of the past half-century. And that’s exactly what Paul Mooney is. He was Richard Pryor’s writing partner and best friend. He’s worked with Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Dave Chappelle. A comedian’s comedian, he was known to command the stage at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood for hours, riffing acidly on show business, politics, and, especially, the ugly state of America’s race relations. Slavery, lynchings, riots—these weren’t isolated sins, they were the country’s foundation, and somehow Mooney made it funny. Filmmaker Robert Townsend, who cast Mooney in his satirical 1987 film, Hollywood Shuffle, says, “Paul didn’t care to be loved. He wanted to speak his mind. He taught a generation of comedians to be fearless.”

Now, though, Mooney’s legacy is in danger of being sullied by an increasingly disheartening series of appearances. Last May, he delivered a rambling performance on Arsenio Hall’s since-canceled talk show. A week after it aired, news outlets reported that Mooney had cancer, citing his cousin and sometime manager Rudy Ealy as the source of the info. I asked Ealy, who I’d been told lives with Mooney in Oakland, if Mooney was ill; he said Mooney was “fine.” (Despite agreeing to let me interview Mooney and inviting me to Oakland to do so, Ealy stopped returning my calls once I arrived in the Bay Area.)

Helene Shaw, who was Mooney’s manager for more than 30 years, has a different view. “Those people around him right now,” she says incredulously, “are going to put this man onstage?” She says Mooney was living in Los Angeles until about two years ago, when he fell ill during a trip to Oakland. “Rudy’s just been around because Paul happened to get sick up in Oakland. He just grabbed him. When he was in his right mind, Paul hated Rudy.”

All this uncertainty is especially jarring given the man it surrounds. Paul Mooney has built, and occasionally undermined, a career by boldly delivering his version of the truth. “They said, ‘Paul, why don’t you sugarcoat?’ ” he snapped at imaginary critics during one of his routines. “I ain’t sugarcoating shit … because white folks didn’t sugarcoat shit to me.”

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