For many years, Eric Wayne was the only black queen at Club 219 in Milwaukee. He performed as Erica Stevens, as Whitney Houston, Grace Jones, and Tina Turner sang to fan adoration, eventually earning the title of Miss Jay Wisconsin in 1986 and 1987.
“I attended this group of black kids because they are actors,” Wayne, now 58, said of his time at the club in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “I saw them and told them I saw them, because they finally got an acting on stage.”
Among them were Eddie Smith, known as “The Elder” because he often wore a headscarf, and Anthony Hughes, who was deaf. Hughes was “my favorite fan of all time” and blushed when Wayne winked at him from the stage. In return, Hughes taught him the ABCs of sign language.
“He was sitting there laughing at me when I was trying to learn sign language with my big old fake nails,” Wayne recalls laughing.
But then, Wayne said, the group of young black men began to weaken.
“They were there and suddenly there were fewer of them,” he said.
Smith and Hughes were two of 17 guys Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered, dismembered and dismembered in a series of murders largely targeting the gay community in Milwaukee between 1978 and 1991. Sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences In prison but was killed in prison in 1994.
Dahmer’s life has been the subject of numerous documentaries and books, but none has received the attention or criticism that “The Beast: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” on Netflix, which depicts the killing spree in a 10-part series by Ryan Murphy. Starring Evan Peters as Dahmer and Niecy Nash as a neighbor who has repeatedly tried to warn the police, he aims to explore Dahmer’s harrowing story through the stories of his victims.
To many critics, that attempt failed immediately when Netflix classified the series as LGBTQ when it premiered last month. Label removed After replying to Twitter. Wayne and the victims’ families questioned the need to dramatize and humanize a serial killer at all.
“It couldn’t be more wrong, more mistimed, and it’s a media grab,” Wayne said, adding that he was disappointed in Murphy. “I thought it was better than that.”
Murphy, best known for her high school comedy show “Glee,” has explored true crime before. His mini-series, American Crime Story, dealt with the assassination of Gianni Versace, the trial of OJ Simpson, and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But it was Murphy’s pivot from “Normal Heart,” based on a play written by AIDS activist Larry Kramer, and “Pose” about the New York City ballroom scene in the 1980s, to “The Beast” that stopped Wayne in his tracks.
Wayne said of “Boz,” “I was so impressed, we finally got a cast that we were involved in.” He added, “It was a huge tribute to all of us. And then turn around and do this, someone attacking the black gay community.”
Wayne said instead of focusing on the victims, the movie Monster focuses on Dahmer. Wayne said Netflix naming the LGBTQ movie and timing right before Halloween didn’t help either.
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment.
In an article for InsiderWatching, Rita Espel, whose brother Errol Lindsey was murdered by Dahmer, described the sighting Photographing the victim’s statement On Dahmer’s experience in the Netflix series and “revive it.”
“It brought back all the feelings I was feeling at the time,” she wrote. “I wasn’t contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should have asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me about anything. They just did it.”
Eric Berry, who said he was a relative of the Isbells, wrote that the series was “shock again and again, and why?”
Scott Gunkel, 62, was working at Club 219 as a waiter when Dahmer was a customer. Gunkel watched the first two episodes of “Monster” but couldn’t continue. He and his friends “didn’t want to revive it,” he said.
“There was no context for the victims at first, I was surprised,” he said of the episodes, adding that the bar scenes did not accurately depict the ethnic mix of gay bars in the city at the time. It was largely white, not black, as the show depicts.
Junkel also remembered Hughes, the deaf man, who said he would come to the pub and wait until he got busy. Hughes was one of the few victims to receive an entire episode dedicated to his story.
“He would get there early and eat a couple of sodas and write me notes to keep the conversation going,” Junkel recalls. “It just disappeared, and I didn’t think much about it at the time.”
This is partly because the Dahmer years also coincided with the AIDS epidemic. There are vague references to the crisis on the Netflix show, including police reluctance to help victims and a bathroom scene in which condom use is discussed. But Jonkel said disappearances of clients are common.
“We had this saying in bars – if someone was no longer there, either they had AIDS or they got married,” Gonkel recalls.
Mikhail Takash, curator, said Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project. Takash was 18 years old when Dahmer was arrested.
“People were always looking for something new and people were always disappearing,” said Takash, 50. “This was different, because it got worse and worse.”
He said the missing persons posters climbed “like a tree in Club 219 until I got to the ceiling.”
Takash said the show brought back those memories, and people claiming to be related to Dahmer’s years have also surfaced who weren’t.
“This is the unseen cost of Dahmer’s appearance, these horrific legends, this inexplicable need to relate to someone else’s terrors,” he said.
It’s “by nature a kind of exploitative literature,” said Nathaniel Brennan, an assistant professor of film studies at New York University who is taking a true crime course this semester.
Even with the best of intentions, he said, “victims become a pawn, a game or a token.”
Brennan said that contemporary true crime often falls victim to unresolvable tension. “We can’t tolerate forgetting her,” he said, “but her acting will never be perfect.” “This balance has become more evident in the past 25 years.”
He said criminals are often portrayed with tragic backgrounds. “There is an idea that if society had done more, it could have been avoided.”
Much of the “monster” has been devoted to Dahmer’s origins, including the suggestion that his hernia operation at age four or his mother’s postpartum mental health problems may have affected his mental development.
Wayne, who now lives in San Francisco, said he has no plans to watch the series and said Murphy owes an apology to the families of the victims and the city of Milwaukee. “This is a scar on the city,” he said.
Before the series premiered, he hadn’t talked about the Dahmer years in a long time. But he still thinks of Hughes regularly when he practices his sign language.
“I did it this morning,” he said. “I still do it so I don’t forget.”
Shellagh McNeill Contribute to research.
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