Genre: Historical Documentary
Year Released: 2017
Running Time: 113 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-MA
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Siege of Ruby Ridge, Ruby Ridge, Welcome to Leith, Hate Crimes In the Heartland, Waco
-Oklahoma City was featured on PBS’s American Experience.
-The Oklahoma City Bombing is the largest domestic terrorist attack in America with 168 confirmed dead and over 680 people injured during the attack.
-In the year 2000, there was the Oklahoma City National Memorial dedicated to the victims and their families of that attack.
-Before he would even think about doing this heinous act, terrorist Timothy McVeigh actually hacked into government databases using a Commodore 64 while still in high school.
Oklahoma, we need to talk. What’s going on here? This is the second time I talked about that state in a review involving a documentary. It all started with the Black Wall Street Massacre which happened in Tulsa and was covered thoroughly in Hate Crimes In The Heartland and Before They Die. There are other issues like the shooting death of Terrence Crutcher who was an unarmed Black man dying at the hands of police caught on two different cameras. Also in Tulsa like the previous two events, there’s the murder of Lebanese-American Khalid Jabara by a repeat White Supremacist convict known as Stanley Majors. You also have Daniel Holtzclaw who was a police officer who was a serial rapist who preyed on Black women from lower-class backgrounds in Oklahoma City. However, this isn’t about any of those issues. I’m talking about one of the biggest disasters to have happened in the state capital.
That’s right. I’m talking about a documentary dealing with an attack that rocked Oklahoma to its core.
Oklahoma City is about the bombing that occurred on April 19th, 1995. The place in question was the Murrah Building in the city which was a governmental building. It contained local and regional departments of the ATF, DEA, and Secret Service, but it also contained offices and a daycare. The blast destroyed other nearby buildings and the city was ablaze. The main suspect was Timothy McVeigh who wanted to wage war against the US government who he considered to be the biggest bully of all time. Several men, women, and children died when the bombs went off. The timing of the event coincided with the two-year anniversary of the Waco Siege which McVeigh witnessed and he also heard about the Ruby Ridge Siege which happened earlier that decade. Various witnesses, investigators, and journalists recall their stories about this grisly event that happened at the hands of an American on US soil who did this atrocious act.
I had been looking forward to watching this documentary after I’ve been researching various documentaries containing uncomfortable truths in US history that have actually happened. The detail of the research was just exhaustive on so many levels. The documentary kicks off with recorded audio of a meeting before the explosion occurs which was just chilling to hear that. The footage of the devastation and casualties was quite sobering. I didn’t even remember this event even though I was alive when it happened. It must have been too grisly for a kid to take in, but I was surprised how much attention it got from mainstream news back then. The documentary connects the events in a logical pattern by going back to what happened in Northern Idaho (as also seen in Barak Goodman’s other American Experience documentary Ruby Ridge), the Waco Siege, and then leading up to what happened in Oklahoma’s capital. It made way too much sense and seeing the connections were just chilling as these dominoes fell into place.
I also liked the presentation and tone of Oklahoma City. These experts were giving such sagacious insight into what happened. The survivors and their families gave such heartbreaking stories about losing their loved ones including the children who died inside the Murrah Building’s daycare center. While this was all well-researched and edited, I was glad that the people had the balls to call Timothy McVeigh a certain word that people of his complexion never get called in the mainstream media: Terrorist. Come on, people. How can someone blow up a federal building and NOT be considered one? Good on everyone. The media is always quick to scapegoat anyone who is Black or Brown with any dangerous attack before the evidence comes out and it was no different back then. Even in pre-9/11 America, the initial blame was on Arabs even though there was no evidence they would’ve done that. I guarantee you that no Middle Easterner, African-American, Asian, Latino, Polynesian, Native American, or any non-White person would’ve ever gotten away with buying that much ammonium nitrate and other chemicals without the cops coming at their doorsteps. It’s no wonder people were shocked once they saw McVeigh’s face on TV. He didn’t look like a terrorist in America’s eyes. That’s why this logic of scapegoating certain ethnic groups is racist and intellectually fallacious since every ethnicity does crimes, but this notion also becomes a strawman that Caucasians are perfect even though that mindset won’t be explicitly mentioned lest the stations get boycotted to bankruptcy. By the way, people of ALL races were killed or injured in the blast, so everyone is fair game to people like McVeigh or others who directly or indirectly indoctrinated him. I guarantee you that if it was any other ethnic group that did as much damage as McVeigh, laws would’ve been passed and minorities would be profiled even harder than they are now. I know some people will play the cards of him being bullied or being a lone wolf. I was bullied very badly most of my school and work life, but I never did anything like what he did. Lone wolf? He had accomplices who eventually served time and he hung out with tons of White Supremacist groups even though he denied it despite him being in the presence of those individuals and being inspired by The Turner Diaries which is a favorite book of those on far-right groups.
Oklahoma City was a very informative and sobering documentary, but I certainly didn’t think it was a perfect masterpiece. I thought the Ruby Ridge elements, while important, felt like a rehash of Goodman’s Ruby Ridge documentary as he even recycled several parts of the footage. The talking head interviews were quite numerous and I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were filmed the same day or week as Ruby Ridge. There were also times when Oklahoma City got too grisly for me. I had to close my eyes a couple times when I saw pictures of dead children from after the blast. The level of carnage hit me way too hard even though I understood why those fatalities needed to be mentioned. The Branch Davidian issue was very important since McVeigh was there when it went down in Waco, but I didn’t see as much of a connection with David Koresh with the rest of the attacks. They also didn’t go hard enough against conspiracy theorists who claim that everything was a false flag operation. That point should’ve been brought up a lot more especially after the Waco Siege and how they showed documentaries that certainly would’ve qualified as fake news had those buzzwords existed in the 90s.
Barak Goodman’s entry in American Experience was certainly a bone-chilling documentary. People need to know about this horrific event. It shows that anyone can be a terrorist including what would be considered the majority culture in America. Finding out about the events leading up to the Murrah Building bombing was horrifying even though the Ruby Ridge elements were rehashed. The production is still quite good even if there was an over-reliance on talking head interviews. Oklahoma City should be a wake-up call to anyone that sometimes the biggest perpetrators are home-grown and not illegal immigrants or foreign-born individuals. Definitely recommended.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like crime documentaries.
Subtract 1-3 points if the concept of White Supremacy makes you uncomfortable.
-Immense research on display
-Great mix of footage and b-roll effects
-Amazing narrative that exposes the double standards of only profiling certain races as terrorists
-The footage gets too brutal
-Recycled elements from Ruby Ridge
-Some connection issues with David Koresh compared to the rest of the film
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: Oklahoma City is best for older audiences only. The White Supremacy philosophical waxing is quite disturbing and not just because of the KKK and Neo-Nazi regalia on parade in some of the footage. There’s some strong language, particularly from the Ruby Ridge protests. The footage from the Waco Seige is disturbing not just because of the church burning down by Koresh and his cronies, but the realization that children were still in there should horrify anyone. In that same situation with Waco, there’s talk about Koresh molesting some of the kids. What really gets disturbing is seeing all the bloody and dead bodies during and after the bombing in the OKC. They don’t play around by showing images of battered, lacerated, and gored individuals including the children at the daycare center.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Oklahoma City is property of PBS. The DVD cover is from IMDb and is property of PBS.