Twenty years after the trial of the century, former prosecutor Marcia Clark is emerging as a feminist hero, thanks to Sarah Paulson’s Emmy award-winning portrayal in the American Crime Story anthology, The People v O.J. Simpson.
Clark endured sexist double standards and went through tabloid hell as she led the prosecution against football star Simpson. With no preparation for what it would mean to become a public figure, she faced criticism for her bad haircut and short skirts. Topless photos of her were leaked to the press. Outside the courtroom, the mother of two small children was going through a divorce.
Paulson plays Clark as a hard-nosed prosecutor who is thwarted by the defense despite DNA evidence linking Simpson. Her performance as a powerful woman fighting for justice while trying to keep it together despite unrelenting chauvinism is winning Clark belated sympathy.
Race issues dominated the Simpson trial. The People vs. OJ Simpson makes equally clear that gender dynamics, from Simpson’s history of domestic violence to Clark’s presence as a powerful woman in the courtroom, also played an equally important part.
Clark as heroine is not without flaws. Her failure to understand the racial aspects of the case come much too late. But she emerges as the doomed heroine and the trial’s most relatable victim through Paulson’s poignant portrait of a working woman struggling in a man’s world.
Paulson, who had been nominated for a gold statuette every year since 2012, won outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie. She took a moment during her acceptance speech to apologize to Clark publicly for wrongly perceiving the former prosecutor during the Simpson trial. She explained after the awards show that, “I was able to stand up in front of everyone and say something that I think the world should say to her.
“Because I do think there was a collective failing by women for Marcia during the time of the trial. Given what I know now and what we all know now, I think an apology was in order. . . I do feel like there was a collective failing of women during the trial,” Paulson said.
Clark attended the Emmy awards as Paulson’s date and was sitting in the audience to hear the apology. She later accompanied Paulson to the Governor’s Ball and saw her name engraved along with the actress’ on the gold statuette.
Aimee Stern approved.