On the heels of the FX drama American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson , another in-depth look at the rise and fall of the American hero is due out in certain movie theaters soon. But if you want to catch it, you'll have to be quick. ESPN has hit on documentary gold with its acclaimed series 30 For 30, which has kept audiences rapt with films on skating scandals, rugby championships, and tennis legends, and now the network has produced a thorough, seven and a half hour docu-series about O.J. Simpson. O.J.: Made In America contextualizes the courtroom drama that played out on ACS by beginning with an exploration of Simpson's superstardom and place in American culture. While the series will run on ESPN in its entirety this spring, it'll also be available to view as a regular film — but just how long will O.J.: Made In America be in theaters for?
Not long at all, actually. In order for their work to be considered for an Academy Award, documentaries must get a theatrical release, even a brief one. ESPN is hitting that minimum by hosting screenings of O.J.: Made In America for a single week in a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles beginning on Friday, May 20. Of course, ESPN can't be expecting the box office numbers of say, a Captain America: Civil War here. For one, if you're planning on buying a ticket to the documentary, you had better block out an entire day. Crain's New York reported that the response to all seven and a half hours of the film screening as part of the Sundance Film Festival this winter helped the studio to make the call to drop the entire film in a public release. "This was not constructed as an episodic series," ESPN senior vice president Connor Schell told The Los Angeles Times of the doc. "It was constructed as a film that just happens to lay out the story over a longer period of time."
The film might not bring in that paper, but it makes sense that ESPN would want to make it eligible for with recognition and prestige come awards season by having it play in theaters for a short bit of time. And for interested parties who don't live in either or those cities and/or don't have an extra 450 minutes to spare, you shouldn't feel left out. The theatrical release is a supplement to the television airing and really more of a logistical choice than an artistic one. The Los Angeles Times reports that documentaries must also be reviewed by that newspaper or The New York Times to be in the running for an Oscar. So even if these few East and West coast screenings are filled entirely with critics, I think ESPN will take it as a win.
On TV, O.J.: Made In America will be aired in five parts, with the first running on ESPN on June 11. And you can expect the lengthy documentary to earn its runtime with reflections and cultural commentary that informed and affected what happened in Judge Ito's courtroom. Director Ezra Edelman told IndieWire, "I was interested in the story of race in Los Angeles. I was interested in the police department. I was interested in all of these things that went into the emotional connection to him as a character into this trial." Sounds like must-see TV — or film — to me.