During our recent webcam chat (watch above), “The People v. O.J. Simpson” writer Joe Robert Cole revealed that the main goal of everyone involved with the show was, “to really try to get under the skin of all the different perspectives surrounding the trial and the verdict so that we could find this place of empathy.” This first installment of the FX anthology series “American Crime Story” delves into the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which captivated the media with its mix of celebrity, sex, and racism. Cole crafted two episodes and the first of these, “The Race Card,” earned him his first Emmy nomination. His intention with this installment was, “to understand the black perspective on the case.”
As he explains, “We wanted to kind of tackle this idea that African Americans are monolithic, that we all think alike. So the episode ultimately ended up being about trying to show these three different perspectives of three different African American men, and they all view the world differently.” To pen this, his first-ever episode of television, Cole sifted through the real life experiences of Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.), his attorney, Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), and prosecutor Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), “to find different ways of accentuating how race is manipulated” and “how it was used in the case.”
He devised an opening flashback in which Cochran, who floats the idea that Simpson was racially targeted by investigators, is pulled over by a white police officer while taking his daughters to dinner in an affluent neighborhood. “When you have that personal experience, it does stay with you,” declares Cole. In terms of drama, “it helps you contextualize his plight,” and, “create that empathy for where each of the characters are coming from.”
Cole, who is scripting the upcoming “Black Panther” film, gives due credit to Oscar-nominated director John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood”), who reaped his first Emmy bid for helming “The Race Card.” “Being from LA, he had a really great understanding of the LAPD, how that relates to race, how that relates to celebrity.” And, adds Cole, “I don’t think there was a better director to do the episode than him.”
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