In just a few weeks, viewers will get a glimpse of '90s TV icon Malcolm-Jamal Warner in FX's highly anticipated limited series "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson," where Warner plays Al "A.C." Cowlings -- the man who drove the famous white Bronco that took O.J. on the run. But the Ryan Murphy produced series [MTV News has screened the first six episodes] is less about the heart-pounding days immediately following the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, and more about the unprecedented racial tension that turned the Simpson trial into what Warner called "TV's first reality show," when MTV News spoke to the actor over the phone.
A good deal of this so-called reality show centered around allegations that the LAPD was just trying to bring down Simpson, a pillar of the black community who also happened to be living in the very white neighborhood of Brentwood. While watching the series, it's almost impossible not to compare the conversations surrounding the Simpson case to the current day conversations about Bill Cosby, who has been accused by over 50 women of rape and sexual abuse.
The most glaring similarity, as the crimes Simpson and Cosby are accused of could not be different, is the way the public is responding to those allegations, with prominent members of the black male community still supporting Cosby... Just like they supported Simpson back in the '90s.
Those similarities are not lost on Warner.
"It’s the same media circus, it’s the exact same thing as the O.J. trial," Warner said. "People are taking such a vehement stance, one way or the other, and it seems like it’s more based on looking at it through the filter of their own experiences."
This filter is something that "American Crime Story" deals with implicitly, as the series makes it clear that Los Angeles prosecutors were blindsided by the nearly unilateral support in the black community for Simpson. (Nine of the jurors selected for the trial were black.) And it may point to why the same divide is popping up for the Cosby case.
"From the black community perspective, it's feeling like the justice system never works for us," Warner added.
Warner, who was in his early 20s and had just wrapped work on "The Cosby Show" when the O.J. trial went down, added that he understood the black male filter on O.J., because, "there are so many black men who got caught up in the system" -- regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent of a serious crime.
"You’ve got that perspective, adamant that he is innocent," Warner explained. "Then you’ve got another side of people who feel vehemently that he did do it. Everybody is basing it on the same information, it’s just filtered with what people’s life experiences are."
This cautious language about the Simpson case is the same way that Warner words his opinions on Cosby. According to Warner, he and the rest of his "Cosby Show" family only have, "opinions based on the same kind of information" that Simpson viewers were given.
"We don’t even really get into trying to decipher it," Warner continued.
This doesn't mean that Warner hasn't come up with a coping strategy -- in fact, he and his former onscreen sister Keshia Knight Pulliam have found a "really good perspective" in their private conversations.
"[We try to remember] the legacy of the show, in terms of all of the good that that show has done," Warner explained. "In terms of a generation of young people who went to college... People who may have gotten married and had families, and had loving relationships with their spouses and their kids, because they were so influenced by that show."
Robert Kardashian, who was O.J. Simpson's lawyer in real life and is played by David Schwimmer on "American Crime Story," seems to struggle with the same issues throughout many of the first six episodes of the show. Is being a football hero, and all of the hope Simpson brought to millions of young people, invalidated by the idea of two murders? And do Bill Cosby's alleged crimes wipe out decades of joy?
Certainly society as a whole will continue to struggle with this idea for both cases, both in the long and short run. But on the latter, at least, Warner's answer is clear.
"All of the good things that that show and Mr. Cosby represented," Warner said, "that good can not be reversed."