From Zac Efron’s turn as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked; Shockingly Evil and Vile to the parade of prolific serial killers in Mindhunter, Netflix has tapped into America’s uneasy love affair with some of its most abominable criminals. In the streaming service’s latest true-crime dramatization, Evan Peters breathes life into Jeffrey Dahmer. However, this time, Netflix may have gone too far.
Jeffrey Dahmer Had Seventeen Victims
Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, terrorized Eastern Wisconsin for years. He drugged, raped, and murdered seventeen young men and boys during his killing spree spanning from 1978 to 1991. However, his crimes are getting renewed attention over thirty years later for what some argue are all the wrong reasons.
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is Ryan Murphy’s latest project for the multimillion-dollar deal he struck with Netflix in 2018. Murphy is known for his many hit TV shows like Glee, American Horror Story, and Pose. In his latest project, Murphy dramatizes Dahmer’s reign of terror, with actor and longtime collaborator Evan Peters cast in the role of the infamous killer.
Given Murphy’s history of making campy comedies, there was a bit of fear that Monster would fumble the weight of such heavy subject matter. However, critics have acknowledged that Murphy and his team made a conscious effort not to glorify Dahmer. Murphy does his best to retell the events through the victims’ points of view, paying special attention to their families and the failings of local law enforcement.
There’s a respectable amount of attention paid to Dahmer’s typical victim profile: African American men of the LGBT+ community. However, audiences are finding that despite Murphy’s best efforts, it’s impossible to dramatize such tragic stories without inherently exploiting them.
Errol Lindsey’s Sister Speaks Out
In 1992, Rita Isbell delivered a victim impact statement in court on behalf of her brother Errol Lindsey, Dahmer’s eleventh victim. The powerful moment was broadcasted on live television, leaving the country to watch as she rushed at Dahmer from the podium, screaming at her brother’s killer, “This is out of control!” She had to be escorted out by court officers. In the new series, actress DaShawn Barnes reenacts Isbell’s statement word-for-word.
All these years later, Isbell is speaking out against the series that dramatizes her brother’s murder. “When I saw some of the show, it bothered me, especially when I saw myself—when I saw my name come across the screen and this lady saying verbatim exactly what I said,” Isbell said. “If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it was me. Her hair was like mine, she had on the same clothes. That’s why it felt like reliving it all over again. It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then.”
Isbell goes on: “I was never contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it. But I’m not money hungry, and that’s what this show is about, Netflix trying to get paid. I could even understand it if they gave some of the money to the victims’ children. Not necessarily their families. I mean, I’m old. I’m very, very comfortable. But the victims have children and grandchildren. If the show benefited them in some way, it wouldn’t feel so harsh and careless.”
Stream With Caution
What seems to bother Isbell the most is just how wasteful the show is. Instead of contacting the victims’ families for approval or trying to donate any of the proceeds that the series is sure to rake in, the show just serves as a greed-driven tragedy binge.
At the end of the day, Monster isn’t controversial because it fails to highlight Dahmer’s victims’ struggles. It’s controversial because it indulges in them, putting them on display for audiences to revel in. It just goes to show that some true crime stories don’t need to be retold. Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story just might be one of those stories. All these years later, this dramatization offers little more than pain for the victims’ families.
Yet, despite the controversy it caused, it’s too late: Monster is already a hit. Its premiere on the streaming giant was record-setting. However, before you choose the series as your next weekend binge, it’s worth remembering that Dahmer’s victims weren’t only the young men and boys who died by his hand. Some of them are still here, being forced to watch as America unpacks and immortalizes their trauma in the name of entertainment.