Tales of the Grim Sleeper documentary review: just listen

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Tales of the Grim Sleeper green light

Filmmaker Nick Broomfield does something completely astonishing (though it shouldn’t be): he listens to people the cops utterly ignored.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Is there any room left for your outage meter to go higher, or is it already at the top of the scale? Mine’s been jumping past 11 for years, and now I’m just gonna add a 12 and call that “one madder.”

Cuz I’ve just seenTales of the Grim Sleeper.

If the serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper had been haunting upscale neighborhoods of Los Angeles such as Coldwater Canyon or Silver Lake for a quarter of a century, it’s a safe bet we’d have heard about him before now. He’d be infamous, like San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer. But the Grim Sleeper — so called for the apparent break he took in his killing spree, though now it seems he may have just gotten better at hiding the bodies during the “lull” — stalked South Central, where poor black people live. So it wasn’t news.

But that’s not even the enraging thing. This is the enraging thing: even the residents of South Central didn’t know there was a serial killer in their midst. The cops knew. For decades. But the Grim Sleeper’s victims were poor black women, so they didn’t give a shit, and they didn’t warn the community that its women were being hunted by a predator. In fact, the cops basically protected the Grim Sleeper’s hunting ground for him. He may have killed more than 100 women, which would make him far deadlier than Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. Combined.

We’ve had lots of reminders in the past six months or so of the appalling disdain America’s police forces hold toward the people they are meant to be protecting, and particular toward brown and black people, and here’s another. It comes via British (and white) documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield (Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer), who does something the cops utterly failed to do: he goes among the people of South Central and listens to what they have to say about Lonnie Franklin, who was arrested in 2010, charged with the Grim Sleeper murders, and is awaiting trial.

Most astonishing — though it shouldn’t be — is the trust Broomfield puts in what black women have to say. (I can’t recall another movie with as many black women’s faces appearing on camera talking about their own experiences.) There’s Margaret Prescod, who started the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders in 1985, when women had already been disappearing and turning up dead for years and the cops were doing nothing about it, and who continues to criticize the foot-dragging of the police and the court system in bringing Franklin to justice. And there’s Pam, who knew Franklin and seems to know lots of people in the neighborhood: she becomes Broomfield’s guide and, he admits, basically takes over the film’s production. She’s tough and crude, but she’s also smart and compassionate, strong and self-confident. She leads Broomfield through the most fundamental sort of detective work, which is just getting out and talking to people.

Which, it bears repeating, the cops never did. Franklin was connected to the Grim Sleeper murders by pure chance, not because of detective work. If only the cops had heard some of the stories we hear from people who knew Franklin at the time when he was committing his murders…

But they have to care before they even think to listen.

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Mon, Feb 09, 2015 4:42pm

I think Tales of the Grim Sleeper is Nick Broomfield’s best and most important documentary yet. Here is my short video featuring Nick Broomfield and Pam Brooks


Fri, Apr 17, 2015 2:00pm

Just saw this documentary on Sky Atlantic and I too am appalled. The police have completely abandoned those poor people. I can’t conceive of a world where mothers have to tell their children not to call 911 in an emergency, because they won’t be listened to/may be accused or framed instead. What the hell is wrong with the LAPD? Racism that goes that high up is terrifying.