Pop culture is obsessed with true crime. It’s everywhere you look. Netflix even has a crime genre because we binge it so much.
The good news is the genre has come a long way from its roots of sensationalism, victim-blaming, and fetishizing serial killers. It’s, in part, thanks to fresh perspectives and the awareness that discussing those problematic aspects brought. But there is still the glaring issue of the cases, killers, and victims that true crime chooses to focus on, which skews sharply white and wealthy.
For starters, there was the recent resurgence of the media’s obsession with Ted Bundy after multiple docuseries and biopics were released. Then came new episodes of The Staircase, Amanda Knox, I Love You, Now Die, and, of course, The Jinx about Robert Durst.
All of which are well known, highly documented investigations with minimal new evidence or developments to offer. So why do we continue to pour over cases involving white criminals and pretty, white, female victims but rarely dedicate the same coverage to crimes impacting people of color or marginalized groups?
It certainly isn’t because all serial killers are white, which the FBI has found to be factually inaccurate. In reality, the diversification of serial killers often reflects what we see within the U.S. population.
In fact, the most prolific serial killer of all time, Sam Little, isn’t white. He claims to have murdered 93 people over a span of 35 years. Little only confessed to these crimes last year, making him great fodder for a miniseries. So, why haven’t you heard of him before? Where are the Netflix specials and docuseries on him or the people he murdered?
The reason is that the majority of his victims were vulnerable young black women.
And no, this isn’t a one-time occurrence. There are certainly many more true crime stories exactly like this. Yet, we continue to only hear about crimes involving pretty white victims and/or white serial killers, who are often romanticized as being smarter than the police.
Stories about a white child being abducted or murdered immediately make international news, like with Grégory Villemin and Madeleine McCann. Stories about Hispanic children getting locked in cages are forgotten in a matter of weeks, sometimes days. There are so many unarmed black men being shot by cops in the US that we can’t even remember all of their names.
But when cops find dead bodies of people of color, like in the Sam Little case, they assume they are a product of their environment or they were living “high risk” lifestyles so it’s somehow their fault. Black people get killed and kill each other. It’s treated as a fact of life and rarely leads to an investigation.
People of color are seen by the government, the Justice Department, and news organizations as expendable. White people, especially pretty or wealthy white women, are not.
Again and again, we see efforts to protect young white women at all costs, no expenses spared. We are outraged when something happens to them. We pour over true crime documentaries focused on the killers who murdered them. Or we obsess when they become killers themselves and ask ourselves how they could ever do that to another person.
The truth is crimes and murders are committed by people of all ethnicities, classes, genders, and ages. Victims aren’t always pretty, white, or young, and they deserve justice too.
But there is hope. The true crime genre is finally beginning to tackle its long-standing, problematic prioritization of the white perspective. New documentaries like Netflix’s The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, dramas like When They See Us, and podcasts like Atlanta Monster are shedding light on crimes committed by and against people of color.
As we’ve seen with the developments in the Grégory Villemin case and the Golden State Killer’s identification and capture, renewed focus from the media can lead to increased pressure and resources to solve cold cases. And more representation of victims and criminals of color within the genre can help spotlight the injustices faced by those communities and better educate the public on how to prevent them in the future.
These stories matter and it’s time that true crime, along with the rest of society, started giving them the coverage and prioritization they deserve.