Thursday, February 25, 2016

Black Women and Loyalty to Black Men:
Episode 4 of The People Vs. O.J. Simpson

By Jenee Darden

Chris Brown, R. Kelly, Mike Tyson, Ray Rice, Bill Cosby—all are high profile black men accused of assaulting or violating black women/girls (Cosby’s accusers are mostly white women). Some of these men’s strongest supporters are black women.

In this week’s episode of The People vs. O.J. Simpson, the show brings up the jury’s majority: black women. According to an old USA Today article, eight of the 12 jurors were black women. In the show, lawyers surveyed regular folks before they picked jurors. Black women were turned off by Marcia Clark and found her to be mean. Nicole Brown was just another gold digger in their eyes. But they saw O.J. as handsome, muscular, successful, etc.

The prosecution tried the case as domestic violence. I agree it was a domestic violence case. Marcia Clark has said in interviews that she understood race back then. On the show, Clark (performed by Sarah Paulson), says she worked with battered black women. But what has been missing in the many debates of the O.J. trial is race AND gender as it relates to black women. In discussions of race, people often forget about how gender affects racial experiences. And when discussing gender, race is neglected.

I’ve written a lot about how black women are very loyal to black men. Not all, but many of us. Sometimes we’re loyal to our own detriment.  One of the reasons why black women don’treport abusers in domestic violence relationships is because of the racial hardships black men endure. We don’t want to send them into the criminal system. Of course other reasons are because of fear, economic issues, religious beliefs, family pressure, distrust of the legal system etc. But culturally, some black women victims internalize reporting abusers as bringing another brotha down. And we’re not going to “bring down” a successful black man like O.J. His talents got he and his family out of the hood.  Yet we black women have our own struggles. Black women are three times more likely to be killed in a violent relationshipthan women of other races. And we experience the highest level of intra-racial violence.

We protect our brothas, even when the evidence is right in our faces. Cases like Ray Rice prove that. There’s video of the football star assaulting his wife and dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator. Many black women on social media blamed his wife and assumed she was a gold digger for not leaving him. The same goes with the teen girls R. Kelly slept with and videotaped—it was their fault. Chris Brown and Rihanna—her fault. The women are blamed and these violent scandals are seen as conspiracies to knock a successful brotha down. No doubt, there have been moments when racism kept a high-achieving black men from rising. However, sometimes black women’s loyalty to our black men crosses into internalized misogyny or misogynoir. And we need to educate our women more about domestic violence and rape culture.

The interracial relationship between O.J. and Nicole Brown in this trial also carried historical, racial elements. During and post-slavery black men were beaten or lynched if a white woman cried rape or abuse. Often these white women lied. White men in Mississippi lynched 14-year old Emmett Till for allegedly whistling at a white girl. I wonder if that crossed the black jurors’ minds (female and male) as well when the prosecution presented domestic violence evidence. Did they feel O.J. was unfairly painted as the black brute who preys on innocent white women?

My grandfather said from the beginning he thought the prosecution would lose because black women weren’t going to let O.J. spend the rest of his life in prison. Maybe he was partly right. I question how much weight black women jurors carried in O.J.’s freedom.

Cochran giving O.J. a pep talk/sermon
Source: FX

PART II: Other Things I Noticed

--I needed that Johnny Cochran pep talk when I was struggling with my college calculus class.

--We see an emergence of a stronger 24-hour news cycle.

-- Oh my goodness! Faye Resnick is hella shady. How do write such a scandalous book like that about your murdered friend? The details about the Brentwood Hello, and O.J. watching Nicole have sex with other men—that all fed into the sensationalism. It added more suds to the soap opera the case was turning into.

--My favorite scene in this episode is of the Goldman’s in Marcia Clark’s office. And father Fred Goldman is pouring out how the public isn’t giving his son’s death hardly any attention. He said, “Ron is a footnote to his own murder.” That’s a great line, BUT it didn’t happen. Kim Goldman told Access Hollywood that conversation did not happen. Still, I noticed on Twitter it made viewers pause and remember the victims.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I Couldn’t Stand the Media During the O.J. Trial: Episode 3 of The People vs. O.J. Simpson

David Schwimmer as
Robert Kardashian
Source: FX
By Jenee Darden

Media coverage of the O.J. trial turned me cold to journalism for a long time. Between the tabloids hounding my family and sensationalized racial coverage, I was done.

I remember that darkened mug shot of O.J. on the cover of Time. I found it racially offensive, although Time said that wasn’t their intent. They had O.J. looking like the black boogey man before the trial began. Black folks were mad about that cover.  The People vs. O.J. Simpson depicts the editors and designers dramatizing the photo to cause more attention and sell more magazines. I’ve worked in journalism for 10 years now and had a great internship at Time magazine in London years later. I helped cover one of thecity’s worst terrorist attacks.  Still that scene is another reminder of why we need diversity in the newsroom.

This episode later gives us insight into more media power when Shapiro does an interview with the New Yorker. We see O.J.’s lawyers building the foundation of O.J. as a victim of a racist legal system, and framed by the LAPD. I’m interested in seeing more of Mark Furman in the series because his racism played a HUGE role in the jury ruling in favor of O.J.

Speaking of race I tripped out on that scene where O.J. rejects the idea of Johnnie Cochran joining the team and says, “I’m not black. I’m O.J.” Even O.J. believed his money and fame trumped race. Like I said before, if O.J. was a poor guy named Oscar Jenkins from Compton, he would be on death row.

DNA, DNA, DNA. The O.J. trial really introduced the greater public to DNA evidence. That was such a huge deal back then. People weren't talking about DNA evidence at the dinner table or with friends. This was new. 

Nathan Lane, Nathan Lane, Nathan Lane! What a wonderful surprise to see him in this series playing F. Lee Bailey. He’s such a good actor. 

I didn’t know Kris Jenner and Robert Kardashian were divided on O.J.’s guilt/innocence. Very interesting.

Finally, scenes with my dad and Marcia Clark! Marcia tells my dad in the series she wants him to prosecute A.C. Cowlings because he drove O.J. in the Bronco chase. My dad called Mom and I to tell us he was going to do it. We couldn’t believe he would be involved somehow with the O.J. Simpson case.  I was so proud that my dad’s superiors trusted him with such a big case. I knew this would be a big boost for his career. Not long after, we got the call that he would be part of the prosecution against Simpson. The game changed. I’ll go into that in a future post.

The most powerful scene for me in this episode was of Kato Kaelin jogging.  Women in a drop-top convertible flashed their breasts at him. He was now a celebrity. After taking in their ta-tas, two guys ran by. They scorn him and accuse him of being a friend to a murderer. He turns to his jogging buddy to say how this situation is complicated. That’s exactly how I felt during the trial. Some people hated my father and thought he was trying to bring O.J. down. Others loved him and thought he was trying to bring the victims justice. I wasn’t sure who loved my father, who hated him. So I rarely told anyone he was my father.

I can’t wait for episode 4. I’ll have another blog post for you.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chris Darden’s Daughter: Yep, My Grandpa Told My Dad Not to Take the O.J. Case

Malcolm Jamal Warner did his thing in
Bronco chase scenes as Al Cowlings.
Source: FX 
By Jenee Darden

The Bronco chase in The People vs. O.J. Simpson was something else! I don’t know about you but I was on the edge of my seat thinking "dayummmmm "while watching episode 2 of The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Everyone remembers where they were that Friday, June 17, 1994. It was exactly one month to my 15th birthday. I lived in Oakland with mother and my father lived in LA. Knowing me I was probably writing in my journal or doing homework while the NBA Finals were playing in the background. I do remember my mother being sucked into the coverage and saying, “Ooooh I gotta call Chris.” We always called my dad for the 411 on celebrity, legal drama. No way in the world I thought this would affect my father’s life and my life. Here’s my breakdown for this episode:

In the beginning you see my dad’s boss, the Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti popping off at Robert Shapiro. I met Gil Garcetti during the trial. The man was sharp, but that’s not conveyed in the show. Garcetti wore the nicest suit I had ever seen on a man. We were in his office, which had an amazing view of the city. He was tall, friendly, but you could feel the power he carried. I ran into him about 13 years later in LA. His vibe totally changed. I’ll tell you about that in a later post.

You see my father driving an old Toyota and pulling into my grandparents’ home. First, my father is serious about his cars looking fly. I’ve always known him to drive nicer looking cars. They may not have been luxury cars all of the time, but his ride always sparkled. But a few relatives reminded me that he was actually driving a Benz around that time. Second, although that house looks more to me like a Southern California neighborhood, that’s supposed to be up north in Richmond, Calif. The actor playing my grandpa doesn’t look like him, but he has Grandpa’s no nonsense, straight-forward attitude.

My grandparents who just celebrated their 64th wedding
anniversary. Can't you tell my grandpa don't play?
My grandpa is a retired Army veteran from Texas who grew up in the segregated South. He jumped out of planes for sport, before it became a cool thing to do. And he raised nine kids. Grandpa don’t play. The paparazzi learned Grandpa don’t play when they came snooping around my grandparents.

There’s a scene at the end where Grandpa tells my father to “stay the hell away from this” case. That’s pretty true. My grandfather told my dad not to take the  O.J. case. He thought they wouldn’t win with O.J.’s star power and racial tensions at that time. He was right.

Contrary to what you saw in the show, my father was in LA during the Bronco chase, not the Bay Area.

The miniseries gets it right about my father’s views on O.J. He was a fan of O.J. as an athlete. He also said that O.J. hardly gave back to the black community once he became famous. O.J. grew up in the projects in San Francisco. My father grew up about 30 minutes away in a tough, Richmond neighborhood. Two black men from similar neighborhoods who made it out, going against each other. It was deep.

There are scenes with the Kardashian kids watching the Bronco chase. Some people complain showing them is getting to be too much, The scene where they were chanting the Kardashian name was cheesy. However, younger people who weren’t around during this time need to know that the name Kardashian was famous before Kim. I don’t know if Kim Kardashian’s sex tape with Ray J would’ve been popular if we had never heard of Robert Kardashian Sr. Their father played a major role in them becoming famous.

Speaking of Robert Kardashian, wouldn’t you want a friend like him? He held O.J. down until the end! The same goes with Al “A.C.” Cowlings. Can you imagine being chased by the cops, while your friend has a gun to his head? You’re trying to save your life and your friend’s life. Crazy. Malcolm Jamal Warner was AWESOME as A.C. Those scenes took some serious, emotional energy. Cowlings has gone under the radar since the trial. Warner said he auditioned to play my dad. Hmmm…I wonder.

What fascinates me most about this episode is how we see race, class and celebrity play out. O.J. had a gun. But the highway patrolmen who caught them on the freeway said they would need permission to shoot him. While Cochran talks about the family of a black man he represented. He was shot and killed by the police while speeding to take the mother of his unborn baby to the delivery room. I always wonder does class and celebrity trump race. If O.J. was Oscar Jenkins from Compton, on the run after being the suspect of a double homicide with a GUN, the police would’ve shot him and his driver.

Did you notice how Cuba Gooding’s O.J. character uses his celebrity charm to ease the police while on the car phone during the chase? It seems he may not choose suicide once he sees fans on the highway cheering him on. Somebody please just give Cuba Gooding Jr. his Emmy now.

A major character in this film is THE MEDIA. The media blew this story up. They interrupted the NBA Finals to show the Bronco case. O.J. Simpson was more important than the NBA Finals. O.J. Simpson was more important the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown.

Sadly this became much more than a murder trial.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Chris Darden’s Daughter Gives Her Thoughts on The People vs. O.J. Simpson Series

Top (l-r) Me and my dad Chris Darden; photo of a child model portraying me on
  The People vs. O.J. Simpson series. Bottom (l-r) Actor Sterling K. Brown
portraying my father; my father and I at my high school; me, Jenee Darden. 

By Jenee Darden

Those of you who follow me are probably looking at the title of this blog post and thinking, “What the hell?” I don’t talk about this part of my life but my father is Christopher Darden, the attorney who prosecuted O.J. Simpson. There are a few reasons why I've been quiet about this over the years and I’ll tell you why in the very near future. But I will say it was a very difficult time for my family. It changed my life, and not necessarily for the better. I wish that experience on NO ONE.

All of which is why I was hesitant to watch FX’s The Peoplevs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. I was 15 and in high school during the OJ trial.  I decided to watch the series after reading a few interviews with actor Sterling K. Brown, who plays my father. Of course I was concerned about how Brown would represent my father. My father declined to meet him, but it looks like he did his homework so far. He spoke in an interview about having more compassion for my father being a proud black man and having to prosecute a successful black man. Mind you, my father did this on television. I hope that is conveyed accurately in the series.

I watched the first episode of the series and here are my thoughts:

Yes the picture of the little black girl in the office scene with my father and Johnnie Cochran is supposed to be me. I was my father’s only child at that time. Folks were blowing me up about that photo. LOL Above I have a screenshot from the show. The black and white photos are of me as a kid. 

The makeup artists on the show are amazing. Sterling K. Brown looks just like my father. I thought a scene from one of the previews was actual court footage from back in the day. 

My father’s character wasn’t on much during the first episode, so I still can’t say how I feel about his portrayal. But I will say that Brown’s voice sounds pretty close to my father’s voice.

I can tell Courtney B. Vance is having a lot of fun playing Johnnie Cochran. I met Vance and wife Angela Bassett years ago when I was a news producer at NPR. They are nice, classy, down-to-earth people. I never met Cochran but Vance seems to have his charisma and smarts down.

Sarah Paulson is showing us the tough Marcia Clark. I sat in the courtroom a couple of times and met Marcia Clark.  She’s definitely a strong woman. And I can’t remember verbatim what she said to me, but we talked about the importance of women’s strength in a sexist society. You can be strong and vulnerable as well. The series shows that by delving into Clark’s personal life.

John Travolta plays Robert Shapiro. It's John Travolta and he can do no wrong. Casting David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian Sr. was spot on.

Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson
Source: FX

Who captivates me the most is Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson. At first I couldn’t see Gooding as Simpson but I was wrong.  Gooding went there with his acting.  He portrays Simpson as troubled, emotional, angry, an entitled celebrity, sensitive, charming and unstable. His Simpson character reflects the complexity of the case. Gooding told Variety playing Simpson is the hardest character he has done. He doesn’t portray him as someone innocent or guilty. That’s our call to make. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won an Emmy for this role.

Someone commented on my Facebook page that they looked at the lawyers and witnesses as characters and didn’t think about their families. It’s crazy to me how during that time, the real trial was like a reality TV series to Americans. My father, Marcia Clark and Simpson's lawyers were real people. Whether you think O.J. did it or not, two people were brutally killed. Nicole Brown’s kids lost their mother. Ron Goldman’s family lost a son and brother. I completely understand why the families of the victims aren't watching this series.   

Those of us with ties to the key players had to deal with the media and craziness too.  My father got death threats. I was a teenager and concerned for his safety. Like I said, I wish such an experience on no one. I can't imagine if we had to deal with the trial in the age of Twitter and Facebook!

It’s definitely an interesting series, especially during these racially charged times. I will be watching.

Twitter: @cocoafly

Read more of my story in the LA Times


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