The controversy around Netflix's release of “Dahmer: (Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story)” is not just caused by the serial killer’s heinous and reprehensible crimes, but also over two underlying issues. One, it was originally labeled as LGBTQ content within the Netflix category of series. This sparked backlash within that community among those who felt the depictions of this sadistic monster did not align with identifying as LGBTQ content. Second, both the victims of the crimes and their families were outraged and felt dismissed since they were never contacted or made aware of the project prior to its release on Netflix. Once again, those who were disregarded despite their suffering were predominantly people of color or from other marginalized communities now left to feel exploited by the telling of this story seemingly just for sensationalism and ratings.
This series also evokes things that society unfortunately cannot run away from. Aside from the unspeakable crimes carried out by someone who was indeed a real life monster, the series delves into telling the victims’ stories, and the atrocities they suffered that could have been prevented. The crimes could have been and should have been prevented by law enforcement, however, abuse, domestic violence, and sexual violence within communities of color and other marginalized communities are often not taken seriously or investigated the same way as white heterosexual victims’. The series creator chose to focus more on the young men, children, and gay individuals from marginalized communities whose voices were ignored many times by local law enforcement. The memories that this series has brought up present the dilemma of pondering how far is too far when it comes to using art media to tell this type of story. Is there an argument to be made for using storytelling to educate and save lives, or does doing so reignite a trauma amongst those whose voices are unheard? Does retelling stories like Dahmer further perpetuate the narrative that trauma impacting communities of color does not matter?
There are always two sides to every story and a reason to understand both sides. First, any attempt to retell this story especially as a fictionalized piece should have been discussed with the victims' families and the survivors of Dahmer's crimes. There have been numerous documentaries as well as interviews with family, victims, and Dahmer himself. The need to create yet another dramatized version of such a perverse story undoubtedly brings up horrible memories for those intimately involved with the story. There is the risk of sensationalizing a story, and thereby hurting those involved. Creating art or telling a story for ratings ignores the real trauma that victims and their families have to process. Were the victims or survivors left behind factored into the decision to retell this horrible story? Would this have occurred if the victims were not people of color or from the LGBTQ community? Did the families and the survivors' feelings not count because of their backgrounds? These are all valid questions that should be examined and should have been factored in prior to releasing this series.
Another side of the argument is that this version of the story makes an attempt to highlight the criminal activities of the so-called police in handling the investigation. The story could have been told without speaking about the well-known offenses and instead focusing on the more hidden crime being the police’s inability, incompetence, and unwillingness to step in and take action all because of the color and alleged sexual orientation of the victims. In perhaps one of the most famous victims’ cases, a young boy only 14 managed to escape and the police quite literally walked him back to his death by returning him to Dahmer. Undoubtedly, this would not have happened if the victim was white or perhaps heterosexual. One can make the argument that highlighting these marginalized communities and how domestic violence victims are treated is relevant and worth the backlash of highlighting in this series. The shame that comes from certain communities particularly Black or Brown gay men, hinders them from reporting crimes. The fact that those who are hired to protect and serve do not extend that courtesy to them also factors into the willingness to report crimes. It is inconceivable to think this modern day monster had at least 18 victims and repeatedly could have been stopped with proper intervention. The fact remained, because of the victim's background, nothing was done.
This crisis ties into the missing Black transgender community members and victims of violent crimes that also go unreported or not investigated. The shame that often accompanies victims in fact victimizes them all over again. The disparities that exist within our society when it comes to healthcare and our criminal justice system make crimes such as this more feasible to happen. It is imperative that those in these communities be educated and know that they have support services that include healthcare and comprehensive mental health services that can encourage them to seek health. Those that do decide to seek help or educate themselves so that they do not become targets should feel confident that law enforcement are there to help serve and protect them.
We all should be confident to walk into our local precinct or contact our local elected leaders for help. If someone is a victim of a crime that law enforcement deems unimportant, know that you have a voice and a demand as a member of this society. There are advocates for you at local hospitals, community based organizations and other organizations that can assist you without judgment. No one should be a victim and even worse be victimized again by lack of cooperation from law enforcement or lack of pursuit of ensuring that charges filed are followed through. This Netflix series is undoubtedly a traumatic event and one that should not be taken lightly. It is currently trending on Netflix, however, probably for all the wrong reasons. Creating a fictionalized account of true crimes in this case can create a fairy tale monster for those who do not know the real story or who were not even born yet. It is no accident that this was released near Halloween. So we must ask ourselves, was this really created to highlight the injustices involved, or to give a platform to this real life monster? Each person will have to decide for themselves, however, the victims and their families should be involved in your decision on whether this particular piece of art actually helped marginalized communities or did it just create ratings?