Twenty years ago, when the O.J. Simpson verdict was delivered, actor Courtney B. Vance says he celebrated — but he wasn’t precisely cheering for the former NFL player.
“I cheered for Emmett Till,” — the African-American teenager lynched in Mississippi in 1955 — he says. “I cheered for all the strange fruit that hung on the trees for 3 centuries.”
For a long time, he says, black individuals had nowhere to go for justice. And that’s why he cheered for Cochran. “Ultimately, on the most significant stage, a black man worked the method and got one more black man off.”
Vance plays Johnnie Cochran, Simpson’s lawyer, in American Crime Story: The Individuals v. O.J. Simpson, premiering Feb. 2 on FX. It’s about what occurred in that Los Angeles court room when a beloved football hero and black celebrity went on trial for murdering his ex-wife and her pal. The show makes the trial really feel relevant once more — particularly when it talks about race, the police and the judicial method.
Cochran, who died in 2005, was a hero to several African-Americans.
“In a real sense, there’s a void when he passed away,” says Vance. “I imply, if Johnnie was here, he’d be leading the charge in all of these situations. You know, all the the chokeholds, and the Fergusons … all of them.”
On his reaction to the Simpson not-guilty verdict
You appear at the Emmett Till case … it was cut and dry: These two guys [Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam] did it, they admitted they did it, and then an all-white jury got them off. … Now, was [Simpson] guilty? We never know. But that wasn’t his job, Johnnie Cochran. His job was to poke holes in the prosecution and it was on the prosecution to prove his guilt. So Johnnie Cochran — we celebrate him carrying out his job.
On how Cochran fought to have race discussed throughout the Simpson trial, in spite of Simpson famously saying, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
He just mentioned, “Can we just speak about it? Is it a crime to talk about? Can we do that?” As attorneys, every thing introduced is critical and certain items you want to block from being discussed. …
You’ve got a black man married to a white woman, living the American dream life-style … but does not believe he’s black, doesn’t want to be connected with black people — but gets in difficulty. And with a black jury, Johnnie Cochran knew that in order for the black man — who believed he wasn’t black — in order for him to get off, he needed to all of the sudden to be black.
On how trials are opportunities for dialogue
[The racial divide] is so deep that it really is going to take every person just putting their gloves aside and letting it be talked out. You happen to be not all going to realize it right now, not tomorrow. But that is why I stated to myself, “Please let the Ferguson grand jury have a trial. Please let them talk it out. Let the year-long procedure go via.” And let it not be like the O.J. trial exactly where soon after the trial individuals just … go back to their corners. Let there be a town meeting. It was a excellent opportunity to be what needed to be done — to speak it by means of.