Nick Broomfield’s investigation of an infamous South Central Los Angeles serial killer had its world premiere at Telluride this Summer. It went on to screen at Toronto, DOC NYC, NYFF, CPH:DOX, AFI Fest, and Zurich, among others, and has been shortlisted for the Academy Awards.
In 2010, the LAPD finally made an arrest in a serial killing case that stretches back to 1985, taking in Lonnie Franklin, Jr. The 57-year-old is suspected of being “the Grim Sleeper,” so named because it appeared that the killer took a fourteen year break between murders after 1988, resuming his work in 2002. British director Broomfield enters the African American neighborhood after Franklin’s arrest to make sense of the case: How could Franklin, a well-known figure in the community, be behind the crimes; did anyone suspect him; and why did it take the police so long to catch the serial killer? Though known for his on-screen, participatory approach, Broomfield wisely significantly tones it down here, never overtaking the film with his presence, allowing instead people within the community to take the lead, from Franklin’s friends – initially skeptical of the accusations, but then cautiously revisiting disturbing incidents that are now reframed in a new light – to the film’s standout subject, Pam Brooks, a former sex worker and addict who ends up becoming Broomfield’s guide to tracking down and interviewing other local working girls who encountered Franklin. While members of the community had organized to put pressure on the police to investigate the murders in the 1980s, many felt that the police were disinclined to spend resources on the case, since victims were all African American, and many were prostitutes. Broomfield’s surprisingly intimate interviews underscore this theory, with discrimination and devaluation of the lives of poor black women by law enforcement coming to the fore, making the film a powerful indictment of systemic institutional racism and classism that sadly has even more impact in the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.