Opinion – Is Hollywood Allowed to Humanize Serial Killers?


Netflix’s Ted Bundy Tapes has been popular among teens Photo by Olivia Ethington

Milan Mena Espinosa, CO-Editor-in-Chief

Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, and Charles Manson are some of the most infamous killers in the United States. They’re both hated and, somehow, admired by mainstream media. Countless movies and documentaries have been based off their lives. Award-winning movies like “Silence of the Lambs” and series such as “Dexter” have been inspired by their crimes. The content of films and series always romanticizes the crimes they’ve committed, allowing the audience to humanize them. Should such criminals be humanized by Hollywood? At the end of it all, they’re still human but should be held responsible for the actions they chose to do. 


Ana Altcheck, Staff Columnist at the Pitt News, wrote an article, “The Immorality of Romanticizing a Serial Killer” for Netflix’s 2019 film, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” The film is about Ted Bundy’s personal life during the span of his crimes. In her article, she explains how the directors fail to highlight Bundy’s gruesome crimes towards women and emphasized more his stunning looks and charm. Not only did the film focus on Ted Bundy’s charm, but it also showed how he fell in love with Elizabeth Kloepfer, a single mother, and stepped in as a father figure for her daughter. Ana mentioned a First Coast News ABC interview with Lisa Little, a friend of a Bundy survivor, Little explains, “If we’re going to talk about Bundy, I want [them] to focus on the victims, they’re the ones that need to be remembered…He’s gotten all of the attention he deserves.”


It’s a very common trend among Hollywood films to override the victims’ story and have their focal point be the convicted murderers. The 2003 film, “Monster,” is about the first American female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos and her lover, Selby Wall. Charlize Theron played Aileen Wuornos and won 11 awards for her performance in the film. It was even nominated for the MTV Movie Award (Best Kiss). The overall film earned 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. Again however, the movie didn’t mention how the victims were affected. “My Friend Dahmer” (2017), is about the adolescence of Jeffrey Dahmer, an American serial rapist and killer who targeted males. It depicted Jeffrey’s troubled teenage years through the perspective of John “Derf,” a friend of Dahmer’s. The movie won $1.4 million in box office sales and earned an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. 


Both of these films humanize Wuornos and Dahmer to the audience. Wuornos was a sex worker, suffered abuse in her early childhood, abandoned at 17, and was judged for being a homosexual. Dahmer was bullied, confused over his sexual orientation, had a drinking problem, and witnessed his parent’s divorce. These are events that many can relate to, allowing the audience to sympathize with the criminals. 


As the accessibility of information and news became more efficient, the public’s fascination and terror over domestic crime grew. David Schmid, an English Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo, wrote an article, “Why Americans Are So Fascinated By Serial Killers” for History, of how the broadcasting of these shocking trials put Americans on the edge of their seats and was overall entertaining. Schmid compares infamous killers with famous celebrities because western culture is heavily intertwined with popular culture. 


Celebrities’ private lives are publicly discussed and profited from which creates a parallel for the infamous criminals. The majority of people want to know why the controversial Kanye West became a successful rapper and designer. Similarly, they want to know why Charles Manson became such a powerful cult leader. Schmid ends his article with a compelling message, “Our fascination with serial murder provides us with a funhouse mirror through which we can glimpse distorted but still accurate reflections of our fears, dreams and values.” This suggests the public sees certain aspects of the infamous murderers in themselves. 


Being able to relate to Kanye West or Charles Manson is a way of being human. It shows how humans are able to empathize and connect towards the most controversial individuals. Showing empathy towards these individuals doesn’t justify their actions nor does it give them a tiny slap on the wrist. Individuals like Wuornos, Dahmer, Bundy, and Manson still committed murder despite their rough upbringings and battles. They all chose to end a life than to rather get help for their internal and external problems. The victims are the only ones who can truly forgive them for their actions. Hollywood has the right to humanize serial killers. Along with that right, they also have a responsibility to acknowledge the brutal wrongdoings and showcase those affected by the crimes committed.