ESPN released the first trailer for its documentary on O.J. Simpson, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year. (ESPN)

Connor Schell is the senior vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films and Original Content. Aaron Cohen was a consulting producer for “O.J.: Made in America.”

Much has been made of the fact that our documentary “O.J.: Made in America” clocks in at seven hours and 43 minutes. Some skeptics have wondered if there’s that much left to say about a story everyone knows, even if it’s one that still captivates. But director Ezra Edelman’s five-part series, which begins airing on ABC on Saturday and continues on ESPN starting Tuesday, is not just about O.J. Simpson. It’s about everything his tragic saga encompassed: race, justice, sports, celebrity culture, domestic violence and more. If you want to really dive in, these works, some of which are referenced in the documentary, would make for good companion reading, watching and listening.

30 for 30: June 17th, 1994

Using only archive footage and no interviews, this documentary, directed by Brett Morgen and commissioned by ESPN, reflects on the unlikely confluence of massive sports events that Friday — headlined by the start of the World Cup in Chicago, Arnold Palmer’s last round ever at the U.S. Open and Game 5 of the NBA Finals — all to be overshadowed by the unforgettable low-speed white Bronco chase across Los Angeles. It’s a film that captures the highs and lows of American sports.

The Run of His Life,” by Jeffrey Toobin

Toobin’s book is the definitive work on the Simpson trial and the source material for this year’s excellent FX miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” A former prosecutor, Toobin focuses on the legal teams in the case, their strategies and their stumbles, re-creating the tension of the real-life courtroom thriller.

Dominick Dunne’s Simpson trial coverage in Vanity Fair

No one chronicled the trial as it unfolded, and its transformation of celebrity culture, quite like Dunne. “This is the first trial I have ever attended where the public sends bouquets of flowers to the participants,” he writes in one dispatch. “One day there were so many arrangements around the desk of Court Clerk Deirdre Robertson that the courtroom had the appearance of a gangster’s wake.”

The Naked Gun

For a bit of comic relief, and a reminder of the persona that once made Simpson one of the most popular figures in the country, check out this classic film, starring the late Leslie Nielsen and featuring Simpson as Nordberg. Simpson gained heroic status with his performance on the football field, but he cemented a reputation as a likable guy with his performances in commercials and movies.

Ragtime,” by E.L. Doctorow

One acting role Simpson pursued and did not get was that of Coalhouse Walker in the film version of Doctorow’s book. Simpson talked about how much he related to the character, a sharply dressed African American piano player who bridles at racism in turn-of-the-century New York. This novel is helpful for understanding O.J.’s effort to transcend race and his comment: “I’m not black. I’m O.J.”


The 2004 Paul Haggis film is a sprawling take on the racial tensions in Los Angeles that are so central to the Simpson story. Though there’s been some criticism of the movie’s depiction and perspective, it won the Oscar for best picture, and then-Los Angeles police chief William Bratton passed copies around to the officers in his department.

Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A.’s 1988 debut album gave lyrical voice to the growing discontent between the Los Angeles Police Department and parts of the black community in South Central and East Los Angeles in the 1980s. Seminal moments in the fracturing of that relationship included Operation Hammer, a crackdown on gang violence that resulted in the arrests of thousands of people, and the raid on apartments at 39th and Dalton, during which officers punched holes in walls, destroyed family photos and left graffiti reading “LAPD rules.” Those chapters helped fuel the riots that followed the verdict in the Rodney King case and the explosive public reaction to the Simpson trial.

King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero,” by David Remnick

Remnick’s portrait of the Ali’s depth of character and courage provides a stark biographical contrast to the choices made by another equally famous and charismatic athlete of the same era.

Twitter: @ConnorSchell, @aaronrcohen

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