Revisiting several of my favorite popular movies from my youth, I have come to realize the 90’s must have been a tough time to be a woman in the public eye. All of the films featured women with no purpose outside of being an object of male affection or to be objectified by the male protagonist.
I was shocked to say the least; shocked the actresses agreed to be a part of it, and even more shocked this was the first time in my life I even noticed it.
All this to say, I was surprised to see Ryan Murphy’s latest T.V. series, American Crime Story deal with this issue head on in its first season, The People v. O.J. Simpson. I expected it to deal with race (which it did beautifully), but did not expect for it to highlight cultural sexism in the 90’s in such a powerful and meaningful manner.
If you’ve already watched the first season in this anthology series, then you know Sarah Paulson’s take on lead prosecutor, Marcia Clark completely steals the show.
She is painted in the show as a hardworking, competent professional who though overwhelmed by the press and personal scrutiny, managed to maintain composure, professionalism, and integrity.
The incompetent, fame-seeking Marcia Clark narrative created by the media is nowhere to be found here.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be a working professional like Marcia Clark. She was thrust in the spotlight against people like Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, and O.J. Simpson, who all thrive in that context. Add in the media only focusing on what she’s wearing and how her hair looks, while her co-workers make comments on her appearance and childcare issues, and I would feel out of my depth too.
My favorite scene in the entire show was after Marcia had cut her hair and was standing in a gas station. While looking at tabloids shaming her awful haircut, the attendant made a comment that the defense team was “in for one hell of a week” after noticing she was purchasing tampons.
Whether this scene was manufactured for the sake of the show, or based on an actual altercation Marcia Clark had at the time, the message was loud and clear; being a woman made it ok to be treated with less respect both in the courtroom and in the media.
There is a lot to love about this show from the top shelf performances (most notably Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, and Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden), nuanced writing, and fearless direction. Ryan Murphy and the gang at FX succeeded in taking a tired subject matter and making it feel fresh and relevant again.
As someone who was alive during the O.J. trial, but too young to really remember what was happening, it was a great way for me to better understand what I’ve heard so much about.
More than anything though, watching this show reminded me of the important responsibility we have as storytellers, and as those who shape narratives in culture.
The media created a false narrative at the time of the trial, demonizing and trivializing Marcia Clark for whatever unknown reason. Their narrative was so convincing that it had persisted to the present. Less than two years ago, Tina Fey parodied Marcia Clark in an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, making her out to be a bumbling, incompetent.
Now, in 2017, a television show has completely reshaped the cultural narrative surrounding Marcia Clark, making her into a feminist hero.
Story is a powerful thing in both positive and negative directions.
As a storyteller myself, I see it as my responsibility to tell stories in such a way where more understanding and compassion is brought into the world.
Thankfully, this is where American Crime Story succeeded the most.
I cannot wait for the next season of this show and to see what new cultural perspective we can all gain from their creative storytelling.