Why O.J.: Made in America Will Win the Oscar for Best Documentary

After watching the nearly eight hour ESPN documentary O.J.: Made in America, I decided not to give it a review. Perhaps it was due to the shear exhaustion. Now that the Oscar nominations are out and O.J. is in there, I feel this analysis can act as a de facto review.


It may seem jarring that a television documentary miniseries is being considered for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. The series qualified for these awards season film categories by having a short theatrical run (yes, eight hours straight in a theater. What an experience that would be!), and now it is being hailed as the frontrunner.

And it’s going to win, whether it deserves to or not.

It isn’t hard to see why. The “film” is a massive undertaking, the scope of it both narratively and as a production is something to marvel at.

But part and parcel to this ability to survey a wide scope is the film’s length. As a feature film, it is incredibly unwieldy (the film is the longest feature to ever be nominated for an Academy Award). Other films must condense their subject matter to within, at most, a three-hour span. The question then arises as to the legitimacy of the film’s qualification.

O.J.: Made in America is a great documentary, don’t get me wrong. The way it encapsulates such a media frenzy event and distills it into understandable, multi-faceted pieces is quite amazing. Adding in layers of race relations and Simpson’s view of his own race, too, is illuminating and fascinating. I have no personal qualms about the film winning an Oscar. It certainly deserves some sort of praise.

And yet, is the film really right for the category? Films like 13th and I Am Not Your Negro may be getting short shrift by means of competing in the same category as Made in America. They are dwarfed by the size of the ESPN film, but that does not make them any less certified to take home an Oscar.

Should the Academy place length restrictions on what should constitute a “documentary feature?” Should they place some other restriction based on distribution intent? O.J.: Made in America was clearly made for television and only put in theaters for the sake of getting awards season attention.

In February, we will see Made in America receive an Academy Award. But don’t forget the other great films that are in the category alongside it. 13th and Life, Animated are both great films. Other films that were shortlisted but didn’t make the cut—Gleason, The Ivory Game, The Eagle Huntress—deserve similar viewer attention.

It is easy to forget the films that didn’t win, especially in those categories that aren’t Best Picture. But Best Documentary is in itself a Best Picture category, in that these are the best documentaries of the year according to the Academy. If you don’t want to spend eight hours of your life reliving the O.J. case, then watch 13th and learn something about our constitution. Or watch Life, Animated and learn about how film can enhance our real-world human connections.

I guess my thesis is, in short, watch movies. While a reductive statement given you’re already reading a movie blog, it somehow still feels right.


As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)


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