In September, a new biographical crime drama series aired on Netflix. Depicting the horrific crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer, “Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is not only raising hairs on the back of necks, but also frustration in Dahmer's victims’ families. In the first 12 days of airing, the series was viewed by over 56 million households, and it is now the highest rated hit since “Stranger Things” season four.
The series dramatized the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer who was arrested in 1991 on account of fifteen murders.
The American public was equally terrified and fascinated by these gruesome killings, and Hollywood fed into the obsession. Numerous dramatizations have been created, including the 2002 film “Dahmer” and the 2017 film “My Friend Dahmer,” starring Ross Lynch. This most recent creation of The Jeffrey Dahmer Story strives to answer what inspired Dahmer to commit these crimes. It focuses on many side characters not commonly referenced in other retellings of his crimes.
When watching a television series, it is often difficult to remember that these events occurred in real life and affected real people. However, the surviving families of Dahmer’s victims, as well as Dahmer’s own father, has recently voiced outrage over not being asked by Netflix for permission to air the series retelling events in their lives. Lionel Dahmer is said to be considering a lawsuit against Netflix for his portrayal in the series. He has also experienced a flood of true crime superfans attempting to get a glimpse of him at his house in rural Ohio.
While the ethics of not informing the victims' families of Dahmer is debatable, Netflix has no legal obligation to reach out to them.
In theory, a creator of a film will get life rights from family members when creating a film about them, which allows them to open up information not previously accessible to the public. They also avoid a potential lawsuit. This was not the case with the Netflix show.
One particular character is Rita Isbell, victim Errol Lindsay's sister, who is seen giving an incredibly emotional victim statement at the 1992 sentencing. The scene is shot verbatim to the original statement, matching her words, hair and outfit perfectly. Isbell stated that Netflix never contacted her for permission and has re-traumatized her family. Netflix recreated the scene in which Isbell had an emotional breakdown in court in front of the man who tortured and murdered her younger brother and gave her no warning that the entire world would now bear witness.
In an essay for the Insiders, Isbell wrote, "I was never contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should have asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They did not ask me anything. They just did it." Even though Isbell feels cheated when it comes to the series, she has also written about how she can now “deal with it differently today than I did in the past. I can talk about it with not as much anger.”
Only time will tell how the victims of Netflix will react legally to not being told of the recreation of their past horrors, however, I think it is safe to understand why they are frustrated and angry.