As a kid who once upon another life wanted so much to be an actor someday, I valued award shows as being the pinnacle of achievement. When I moved to Los Angeles and made friends like Jason Kisvardy, who has since worked as production designer for successful movies such as Everything Everywhere All at Once, this stacked even more. Award shows are supposed to be filled with pride, joy, and praise for the entirety of the filmmaking process.
As an adult who lost her sister to murder, film -- and in turn awards -- have changed in a horrifying way.
True crime seems to have gained popularity over the years. Surveys suggest a high percentage (58 percent in one study and one in three Americans in another) of people enjoy watching these types of shows. These stories, however, such as the now Golden Globe award winning Netflix series Monster - The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, are often not authorized or endorsed by the victim’s families. They are painful for the loved ones of those who were killed.
Sadly, I do relate in a way I wish I didn’t. My sister was not one of victims featured in Monster. Her story, at one point, attracted the interest of a filmmaker who considered developing a movie about her case. Thankfully for my family, this did not go forward (and hopefully never will). Many families are not so fortunate; they are subjected to re-traumatization as they face dramatised portrayals of their deceased loved ones, with some even winning major awards.
The families for those in Monster were not so lucky. Rita Isbell, the sister of victim Errol Lindsey, wrote a note about this to Time Magazine about this very issue saying, "I was never contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should have asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. But I'm not money hungry, and that's what this show is about, Netflix trying to get paid." The series, although met with scrutiny earlier when it was released, won a Golden Globe this week. Evan Peters who played the infamous killer, took his winning moments to thank folks who had helped the film go forward: "Thank you to Netflix and Mr Ryan Murphy for letting me be a part of your brilliant vision. I want to thank this incredible crew and cast and directors. It was a collosaul team effort. Everyone gave it their all and I would not be up here without them." He also thanked his family and friends for supporting him. Lastly, he mentioned the people who he thought were most important to his award winning success: the viewers.
Finding out about Peters’ speech infuriated me. This was a moment where Peters could have showed care for the families, perhaps even acknolwedged that maybe this series should have never been made in the first place. He could have said something honoring the victims who suffered. He did nothing but encourage more of this to occur. The mother of victim Tony Hughes told TMZ that Peters “should have used his speech to say Hollywood should put an end to telling stories of killers and glorifying them.” These sentiments are a chilling reminder of what my family felt when we were merely approached about this possibility. Such thoughts seem to be shared by many surviving loved ones of victims of violent crimes, but are simultaneously minimized or outright ignored in the name of capitalism and entertainment.
People watching these films and shows probably walk away not remembering the names of the victims; their stories are lost again and again, while the killers continue to circulate and even garner glory. The surviving loved ones are left to suffer while people repeatedly profit without care for the folks whose very stories handed them a Golden Globe.
It’s time to start making impactful changes to how true crime stories are consumed, made, and allowed to be on the receiving end of awards. Society should not be rewarding the people who caused grievous harm with fame or allowing filmmakers to move forward with projects without the consent of surviving families and loved ones of the deceased. The impact they have on survivors needs to be prioritized and their feelings should matter more than apathy, awards and profit.