Film / TVOpinion

Black Pain May Be Public Record, But We Are Not Mere Source Materials

October 18, 2022

A stereotype in medicine suggests Black people don’t feel pain the same as other races. This belief means Black patients’ pain is dismissed or under treated, leading to re-traumatization and/or death. In newsrooms, the phrase, “If it bleeds it leads” often determines whether a story is worth pursuing. Granted, we don’t always see this trope applied across the board with Black issues. Nevertheless, if there are enough casualties, enough blood, enough gore, and just enough public interest, the story will see the light of day. 

Profit derived from Black pain

Similarly, an appetite for Black pain seems to permeate in Hollywood. For example, the Black experience cannot be predicated on slavery alone, yet there’s never a shortage of slavery period pieces in production. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t see adaptations of history in the present, but it is odd that they are never juxtaposed to an equivalent or equitable number of dramas, comedies, or the like. 

There is something insidious about mass consuming pain, particularly Black trauma. While it’s no surprise, the genre’s profitability is unnerving. Take Netflix’s most recent success Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, for instance. The biopic is a hit despite Netflix’s attmepts to bury it, according to Stuart Heritage.

This Netflix series is a biopic instead of a documentary meaning its creators have the right to exercise their artistic license. However, this leaves the victims’ families subject to re-traumatization without, at minimum, warning. “I know true crime media is huge [right now], but if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about this show. It’s re-traumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need,” says Eric Perry. Simply put, this use of artistic license shows little regard towards the victims and their families. 

Hybristophilia and the true crime genre

In addition to Murphy’s Dahmer re-traumatizing families, it reintroduces the story into the pop culture zeitgeist. Commonly, albeit unfortunate, lusting after serial killers is nothing new. Ted Bundy’s groupies attended his trial and sent fan mail. After Zac Efron’s portrayal of Bundy, predominantly white women began thirsting over him on TikTok. Now, the same romanticization of Murphy’s portrayal of Jeffery Dahmer is happening online. In fact, the desire/sexual interest toward someone who commits crimes is called “hybristophilia”. Now, sexual desires are generally a personal disposition. However, when they’re placed into the center of pop culture and juxtapose a lack of compassion to those recovering from gruesome crimes, they warrant interrogation. 

The 14 Black men Jeffery Dahmer slaughtered, brutalized, and devoured, had families. In 1991, their families’ trauma and pain became public record. While everyone has the right to access public records, Black trauma and pain cannot be so callously wielded for the sake of art.