The exploitative nature of biopics

A biopic is meant to be a cinematic retelling of the life of a popular figure, or a major incident. The sentiment behind it seems to be informing viewers about said person or occurrence in a format that allows the event to play out in an easily digestible way. However, given the recent rise of biopics, people have been voicing concerns about the ethics of their production and consumption.

One recent release which has caused a lot of controversy is the limited series, Dahmer, on Netflix, which recounts the life of serial killer Jeffery Dahmer. The show also depicts the murders he committed, as well as his childhood and trial. Dahmer aimed to show a raw portrayal of the monster he was, and how systemic negligence allowed him to carry out his crimes.

Even if the show doesn't show him in a good light, it still doesn't give him victims a name or a voice. They're all delegated to being side characters in his life, which is what every piece of media on him has already done.

In fact, the families of the victims were not even contacted about the making of the show, much less compensated for it. The only party benefiting from it financially is Netflix itself. On the other hand, the affected families are left with graphic re-enactments of their loved ones' tragedies, existing forever in the media for others to consume.

Countless documentaries and movies have already been made on Jeffrey Dahmer, and this will continue as long as it's still profitable. So then, why don't the filmmakers consult the families about them? Because there's a very good chance that they wouldn't agree to its production in the first place. The ones who were affected have already lived through these events and, in most cases, they don't want to see any retellings of it, no matter how "noble" the intentions may be.

Even if they do agree to it, it makes sense that they'd want a version that humanises the victims at least. But their lives aren't as monetizable as the criminals'. The filmmakers' main concern is generally to make money, not to tell a respectable story.

In fact, this brings up another reason why biopics are accused of being exploitative, and it's because they feel like they've been made just to cash in on a lucrative event. Streaming service Tubi announced that they would be releasing a movie called Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial, which follows the lives of the titular characters in and out of the court.

The case itself was settled very recently, and it begs the questions of how its makers have already managed to make an entire film about it in such a short time. Scripting, casting, and filming a movie isn't something that just happens overnight. Furthermore, given how barely any time has passed since the trial, it is speculated that the film won't be well-researched, let alone well-written.

But that isn't important to the filmmakers, as their intention doesn't seem to be making a good film. Their true priority is to be the first ones to cash in on the whole ordeal while it's is still fresh on everyone's minds.

In the end, it's important to remember that biopics are still movies, and all movies need a bit of dramatics to make it sell. If anyone is actually interested in knowing the real facts of these figures or events, these movies shouldn't be their main source. There will always be some biases in their making, since it's impossible to faithfully show all angles of it. It's better to take the time to research by reading up on first-hand accounts from the people who were actually involved to form your own opinions about the person or event in question.


Vox (September 28, 2022). What do true crime series like Dahmer owe the victims?

Namreen is sick and tired. Send a reminder that life goes on at [email protected].com


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