Netflix is under fire for its new hit series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The show depicts the life of Dahmer in dramatized flashbacks and re-enactments, and many critics have said that this is sensationalization and is unfair to the families of his victims. Now, one of his victims' mothers, Shirley Hughes, has spoken at greater length about her problems with the show.
Shirley's son Tony Hughes was featured in the Netflix original series, played by actor Rodney Burford. On Sunday, she spoke to reporters from The Guardian about the difficulty of seeing her son's horrific death depicted on screen – and then rehashed in the public consciousness all over again. She said that, for one thing, her son's murder did not happen as it was depicted on the show. For another, she was shocked to find that the studio could use her family's names and one of their most traumatic stories as fodder for a TV show without any say from her.
"I don't see how they can do that," she said. "I don't see how they can use our names and put stuff out like that out there." Shirley also appeared on Netflix's Dahmer, played by actress Karen Malina White. The show portrays Shirley and Tony as close, explaining how he came to lose his hearing and how he grew up struggling with both his deafness and his sexuality.
The real-life Shirley did not explain how the show's version of events was different from her experience, saying only: "It didn't happen like that." She was reportedly teaching a Bible study class in Milwaukee when her son disappeared decades ago. She only learned of his fate when Dahmer was finally arrested and Tony's skull was discovered in Dahmer's apartment – identified through dental records.
So when they say they’re doing this “with respect to the victims” or “honoring the dignity of the families”, no one contacts them. My cousins wake up every few months at this point with a bunch of calls and messages and they know there’s another Dahmer show. It’s cruel.— eric perry. (@ericthulhu) September 23, 2022
Shirley Hughes attended all of Dahmer's court dates and won a civil court judgment, allowing her to collect up to $10 million in any money offered to Dahmer for the rights to his life story. However, legally studios were not required to consult with the victims' families or pay them for depicting them on screen. Their stories are considered a part of the public record.
Other family members of Dahmer's victims have spoken out against this show, and critics have spoken on their behalf as well. Many criticize the show for focusing so heavily on Dahmer himself, delving into his psychology, and sparing much less time for his victims. On top of the sensationalized and "exploitative" depiction of their worst tragedies, they felt that this revisitation of the murders was re-traumatizing, in a sense.