Tales of the Grim Sleeper (2014)

Tales of the Grim Sleeper (2014) movie poster

director Nick Broomfield
viewed: 04/01/2018

I swore I would never watch another Nick Broomfield documentary after witnessing the atrocity of Kurt & Courtney (1998). But there’s a reason they say “Never say never.”

Broomfield’s films about Aileen Wournos were actually quite thoughtful and provocative, a sympathetic background and reality of the notorious female serial killer.

In 2016, Lonnie David Franklin Jr., dubbed “the Grim Sleeper” by the media, was convicted of several murders is South Central Los Angeles.  In Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Broomfield doesn’t get to know Franklin as he did Wournos, but rather gets to know Frankin’s friends and the world in which he stalked and murdered for over three decades.

Broomfield, always present in his films, goes to Franklin’s neighborhood, asking to speak to those who knew him. And this is to his credit. The reason that Franklin got away with untold numbers of murders for so long was because his prey were poor and black, not even considered significant enough for the LAPD.

He speaks with Margaret Prescod, an eloquent local activist, who had been petitioning and trying to get action taken throughout the entire span of Franklin’s thirty year span of death, is an excellent voice here. Broomfield also speaks to  Franklin’s good friends, who at the beginning of the film are still disputing his guilt and defending his qualities. The tale of the Grim Sleeper is one about black community of Los Angeles, the loss of jobs and industry, the introduction of crack cocaine, the inherent racism that built the world in which Franklin lived and operated.

Franklin was only “caught”, his crimes only finally truly assessed, as a result of DNA technology and journalism from the LA Weekly that realized that a single individual had been killing so many women, not through active investigation.

Broomfield’s style of film-making is typically annoying, but here it winds up working. Everyone in the film and on the streets is aware of him for his race, a constant reminder that he is an outsider, suspect of police affiliation or other untrusted background. It’s not a world that he inherently understands (at one point someone calls him a “peckerwood” and he thinks it’s a term of endearment).

But he goes in to the community and he talks to the people. He learns about South Central and Lonnie Franklin, Jr. from the people who lived through it all, the people whose voices are not usually recorded for history or perspective. And it gives this film more weight and value than I had anticipated.

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