Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in Netflix's Monster series, being escorted down a hallway by a policeman.

Do We Really Need Yet Another Serial Killer Biopic?

To date, there are at least five miniseries and movies that narrate Jeffrey Dahmer’s life and disturbing crimes (on top of the countless documentaries), with the latest one being Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. And given the now seemingly blurring and thin line between entertainment and true crime consumption, this all begs the inevitable question: Do we really need yet another serial killer biopic (or any form of media recounting any serial killer’s crimes)? 

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Emphasis on the word “monster”

Of course, we all know Jeffrey Dahmer was a monster—he was a serial killer, sex offender, and cannibal who preyed on Black men and men of color. That’s horrifying. Full stop. But somehow, amid all these limited series, endless podcasts, and movies, it’s become some sort of macabre story consumers find fascinating, at the expense of those who would preferably never hear of these crimes ever again: the families victims leave behind. 

In a series of tweets, a relative of one of Dahmer’s victims, Eric Perry, pointed out this fact:

In a separate tweet, Perry further goes on to state that not once did anyone reach out to his family regarding the series, considering that these events are of public record. He writes, “When they say they are doing with, ‘with respect to the victims’ or ‘honoring the dignity of the families’, no one contacts them. My cousins wake up every few months at this point with a bunch of calls and messages and how they know there’s another Dahmer show. It’s cruel.”

Rita Isbell herself, Perry’s cousin whose emotional impact statement during Dahmer’s 1992 trial was depicted on the show and is seen side-by-side with actual footage in his quoted tweet, echoed his sentiments in an interview with Insider:

“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,” she shared. “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. 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.

Do we really have to tell this story?

One of the most interesting things worth noting when it comes to how Netflix handled Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is how, unlike its other anticipated shows, virtually no press was made—no preview screenings for the media, and it wasn’t until five days before the release that Netflix actually gave audiences a trailer, which is … telling.

Often, the reason given by producers when creating projects of this nature (or actors, when asked why they took on roles related to such projects) is for the sake of “awareness” and for the memory of the deceased. In fact, one of the show’s actresses, DaShawn Barnes (who played Rita Isbell) shared nearly the exact same sentiment.

“I feel really honored to be trusted with telling this part of this horrific story. I’m grateful the victims weren’t an afterthought but their humanity and perspectives were reflected in this series,” she writes in response to a tweet with a video containing her reenactment of Isbell’s riveting statement in court spliced next to actual montage of the real Rita Isbell. Coincidentally, the tweet was the exact same one Eric Perry responded to when he shared his family’s re-traumatizing. This again brings me to my main point: How many more times do we have to tell this story? And do we really have to?

Monster was released on September 21, and less than a month later, Netflix is dropping yet another Dahmer-centered project: Conversations With a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes. This is, of course, the third installment in Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer anthology (the first two were focused on Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy), which says a lot about both Netflix and us as consumers. 

True crime as entertainment?

By now, there are probably thousands of think pieces out there on the commodification of true crime and the general desensitization of audiences. Policing and criminology expert Jennifer Schmidt-Petersen, from The University of Law, primarily credits fascination with true crime content to its ability to allow viewers to have a glimpse into some of the most complex and gruesome crimes from a safe distance. This has many various side effects of its own, which typically range from stereotyping crime to an overall false sense of knowing the ins and outs of a (very broken and to some extent, problematic) system.

Amid all this, victims are somehow reduced to statistics and their photographs on file, while their family is left having to hear their final moments over and over again through various forms of media. And again, we are all well aware that these shows, podcasts, and films are within the realm of legality, but that doesn’t make it right—not even in the slightest. 

Because despite all claims of good intentions, at its core, rehashing these terrible crimes does more harm than good. In a sense, it does more in terms of memorializing these horrible people who don’t even deserve to be remembered. Some would argue that may be an exaggeration, but it isn’t. Case in point: Just a few days after Monster’s release, TMZ reported reported that several of Dahmer’s personal items (his glasses included, along with other items like cutlery and documents) are now up for sale.

I think that speaks for itself.

“I’m not money hungry, and that’s what this show is about, Netflix trying to get paid,” Rita Isbell shared with Insider. “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. It’s sad that they’re just making money off of this tragedy. That’s just greed.”

She further shares that she only saw the episode that featured herself: “ I didn’t watch the whole show. I don’t need to watch it. I lived it. I know exactly what happened.”

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Danielle Baranda
Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.