The story of Jeffrey Dahmer is notoriously horrific. Also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, Dahmer gruesomely murdered seventeen people between 1978 and 1991. He took them from their families and their loved ones. His actions left a scar on their lives and struck a lasting fear in the heart of Milwaukee’s gay community. Now, almost 28 years after his death, director Ryan Murphy is telling this story on Netflix. The first trailer for DAHMER – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story dropped today, and it is deeply disturbing.
A Very Dark Place
Portrayed by Evan Peters of American Horror Story fame, Murphy’s Dahmer is a chilling depiction of this infamous murderer. The series promises to expose Dahmer’s crimes while centering on the victims (most of whom were not white) and their communities. The story of Dahmer illustrates a catastrophic failure by local police, and the unanswered warning cries of marginalized people. Speaking about his role as Dahmer, Peters said he was “very scared” going into it. “Trying to commit to that was absolutely going to be one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life,” said Peters. “In order to do that I was going to have to go to really dark places and stay there for an extended period of time.”
Peters said he has the crew to thank specifically for keeping him on the guardrails. “I could not have done any of this role without them,” he continued. Beyond this, there was one rule from director Ryan Murphy. That is that they would not tell this story from Dahmer’s point of view. “It’s called The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, but it’s not just him and his backstory,” said Peters. “It’s how society and our system failed to stop him multiple times, because of racism, homophobia.” The cast and crew knew the importance of telling everybody’s side of the story. “The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is so much bigger than him”
A Story Untold
With that in mind, let’s talk about Glenda Cleveland. Although you may be intimately familiar with Jeffrey Dahmer and the victims, it’s very possible you don’t know her name. Portrayed by Emmy award-winning Niecy Nash, she was a neighbor of Dahmer’s. Cleveland lived in the, now leveled, apartment building where Dahmer carried out twelve of his seventeen confirmed murders. “Hers is a story that I did not know,” said Nash. “Glenda was one of his victims too, and her story has been told the least of these.”
Cleveland tried several times to call attention to Dahmer’s suspicious behavior. The serial killer could have been stopped two months earlier if authorities took her seriously. Cleveland advocated for 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone, who came tragically close to escaping Dahmer’s clutches. Drugged and disoriented, Sinthasomphone was led back into Dahmer’s house after he convinced police officers that Sinthasomphone was his 17-year-old partner. Cleveland knew something wasn’t right, but appallingly, her cries were ignored. Five of Dahmer’s seventeen murders, including Sinthasomphone, could have been prevented that night.
Niecy Nash told the story of her performance surrounding this story, and how it shaped her view of that terrible night. “The police were right there, and they walked him right back into Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment,” she said. Nash explained that she believes that happened for one of two reasons. “One, because it was a Black woman complaining and calling them to do something,” she started. “And two, because they believed what they stumbled on what a same-sex couple.” Ultimately, she said, it was “homophobia on one hand, and not having that much respect for a Black woman on the other hand.”
Dahmer’s Hateful Legacy
Glenda Cleveland’s story underscores the real hateful legacy of Jeffrey Dahmer. There is so much more to it than a gay serial killer. “The theme of this entire piece is timeless,” said Nash. “You still have communities and people crying out for change to be heard by the police, by the powers that be.” The victims of Dahmer were mostly queer, mostly Black, and mostly lived in an underserved and overpoliced part of Milwaukee. For all that policing, so many entirely preventable murders occurred.
Nash recalls filming the moment Cleveland went to Sinthasomphone’s funeral and faced his grieving parents. “The pain of that moment,” Nash started, getting visibly upset, “it was a lot.”
“It’s too late. Y’all came too late,” Cleveland cries at the end of the chilling trailer. Yet here we are, almost three decades later, with the voices of Black women still largely ignored. “We all know, or have been, or will be a Glenda Cleveland in this life,” said Nash. “That’s for sure.”
Watch the first trailer for Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story below.
Stay tuned for the second trailer, debuting on September 20.