It is undeniable that from the Netflix original Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile to the podcast Serial, America’s obsession with true crime has boomed over the past few years. While many experts agree that our interest in the darkest parts of the human psyche is not entirely new, given the extent of violent historic essays and novels dating back to the 17th century, it is our modern access to information that has influenced the rate at which this media is being produced. Today, anybody with internet access and some free time can listen to a podcast diving into the theories of a long-forgotten cold case. But what does this mean for the victims, and families that are being forced to relive their trauma, and deal with the public humiliation that is associated with having their story retold?
Of course, it can be incredibly beneficial to have your experience validated in this way. Publicizing the actions of a serial killer or rapist can underline how immoral people find them, setting clear standards for the treatment of women and minorities, who are often found to be the victims of such crimes. This allows victims to receive support and to connect with others who have been through similar situations. While falling victim to a violent crime may leave people feeling as though they can never truly recover, spreading their story can allow them to understand that this is something others have been through and moved past, potentially aiding their recovery process.
Yet, when it comes to the production of a major Hollywood film, the impact on people who were involved is often not a top priority. Intention matters when it comes to topics as sensitive as true crime, and the motivation generally comes down to making a profit. That means that people who would be affected in the most extreme ways are exploited rather than supported, often leading to an incredibly biased and dramatized piece of content.
True crime documentation could be an incredible way to share stories and connect survivors, while also informing the growing population of people who have found a passion in this type of media. However, when survivors do not have a say in the narrative that is being pushed, they can be seriously harmed, leading to humiliation and long-lasting psychological trauma. So long as anybody that is exposed by the story is accounted for and a part of the production process, there is no issue, but we cannot let Hollywood push stories that are dramatized and go against the wishes of any of the victims or their families, as this would only add to the horrible experience inflicted upon them.