In 2010 Lonnie Franklin Jr was arrested for the crimes of the so-called ‘Grim Sleeper’, a serial killer active in downtown LA since the early 80’s. His capture came after 25 years of botched investigations and public outcry, his moniker awarded due to the Sleeper’s apparent habit of killing only once every few years. The moniker, like the investigation, is a fallacy and Franklin Jr is now thought to be responsible for well over a hundred disappearances. Nick Broomfield reveals the truth behind the case in his latest documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper.
Broomfield continues to be one of the legends of contemporary documentary filmmaking because he is continually content to throw himself
into subject matter that most would find uncomfortable. He seems so at ease yet never laid back, so sharp in his questioning but never confrontational. His monotonous tones slide their way around fields of venture alien to the vast majority. His work with serial killer Aileen Wuornos picks out the blatant sexism of American justice, but also the total disregard shown for sex workers. Its in Tales of the Grim Sleeper that Broomfield has perhaps provided the best canvas for issues of sexism, race, and class. His is, more than ever, a supporting voice in the plight of those shoehorned into the fringes of society.
At the very least, there is an attempt to highlight sex work as a site of gross cultural apathy, for Broomfield finds himself at the heart of a story as-of-yet shockingly untold. The police have, for years, danced around the concrete facts of the case (A, that there was a serial killer, and B that the public needed to know) so Tales of the Grim Sleeper appears to be the first full account of what has happened. Frankly it’s disturbing, but not surprising, that the white-run LAPD have never given as varied, in-depth, and honest an account as this. Broomfield minimises issues around his own role, as white alien, by minimising the white voices in the film and letting the story play out courtesy of those who have lived it. An unflinching respect for the black community of LA paired with an unspoken disregard for the bureaucracy that permitted a 25 year reign of terror make this an acidic and astute piece of filmmaking.
Between the blatant racism of American police and the homogenized sexism of one of LA’s poorest areas, Broomfield’s Tales of the Grim Sleeper looks at the perfect storm which enabled the Grim Sleeper to kill unchallenged for a quarter century. Terrifying arresting viewing.
Dir: Nick Broomfield
Stars:Pam Brooks, Nick Broomfield