"One of the top film educators from around the globe"

Variety Magazine

"For nearly two decades, the San Antonio native (Ya’Ke) has been making films that grapple with race and social change"

The Texas Monthly

"25 screenwriters to watch"

Moviemaker magazine


The Pandemic Chronicles


Dear Bruh


Katrina’s Son

The Beginning and Ending of Everything



What ‘Dahmer’ is teaching us about race

At this month’s Golden Globe Awards, Ryan Murphy accepted the Carol Burnett Award for his monumental and historic television career. The star of his polarizing Netflix series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Evan Peters, took home the Golden Globe for best actor in a miniseries or motion picture. At November’s People’s Choice Awards, the series also took home the prize for most “Bingeworthy Show” of 2022. And just last week, Dahmer actress Niecy Nash-Betts won the Critics Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television.


The recognition is warranted, not just for the stellar performances but also because Murphy’s installment of the Dahmer narrative offers a fresh perspective, highlighting realities that sadly still reverberate today. The men Dahmer targeted were viewed as throwaways, dismissed as trash because they were Black and gay at a time when many in society would have loved to see those demographics of people fall off the face of the earth.


But did law enforcement learn anything from the deep racial implications of the Jeffrey Dahmer case? Unfortunately, similar cases followed, and the way they were handled mirrors the Dahmer fiasco.


For example, in 2019, Ed Buck, a Los Angeles activist, actor and political campaign donor, was charged with fatally overdosing Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean at his Los Angeles apartment. For almost a decade, Buck lured young Black men to his Los Angeles apartment to “party and play.” This involved Buck soliciting these men for sex, many of whom were either homeless, struggling with drug addiction, or both, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.


Buck would inject his victims with Fentanyl, some willingly, others not, and once they were unconscious, he would sexually assault them. Activists spent years pleading with local authorities to intervene, to dig deeper into these deaths, but their pleas landed on deaf ears. When Moore’s body was found in 2017, Buck was not charged. The same happened when Dean’s body was found two years later.


It wasn’t until a man escaped in September 2019 that Buck was arrested and ultimately charged. The incident closely mirrored the events that happened nearly three decades earlier, in July 1991, when Tracy Edwards escaped his four-hour imprisonment in Dahmer’s home and alerted authorities, leading, finally, to Dahmer’s arrest.


Even more recently, in September 2022, Bishop Tony Caldwell, a local pastor and activist in Kansas City, released a video saying that there was a serial killer targeting young Black women in Kansas City. In his video, which was re-released by the Kansas City Defender, Caldwell declared that “We got four young ladies who have been murdered in the last week.” When the video went viral and other concerned Black activists began speaking out about the Kansas City Police Department’s refusal to investigate the reports, the police released a statement saying that the claims were “completely unfounded.”


One month later, an extremely emaciated Black woman, barefoot, wearing latex underwear and a padlocked chain around her neck, knocked on a woman’s door in a Kansas City suburb. She claimed to have escaped the house of a man named Timothy Haslett Jr. She told the police that Haslett abducted her and kept her locked in his basement for more than a month where he allegedly raped, beat, and tortured her. She also alleged that other women had been there with her, saying that her friends “didn’t make it out.” Haslett was arrested and charged, but no other women were found in his residence. According to activists in Kansas City, there hasn’t really been a concerted effort to find them. Haslett is currently in custody and his trial is set to begin on February 24th after being rescheduled for a third time.


Dahmer, Buck and Haslett: three white men who preyed mainly or exclusively on Black people with prolonged impunity, suggesting to us yet again that when it comes to Black life, society can’t be bothered. Even when the cries of a community ring loud, the silence of those charged with protecting them cancels out those cries, which makes the pain that much more agonizing.


If the missing, the abused, the cannibalized and murdered were mostly straight and white, someone would have done something long before the numbers rose to what they were. A 2018 Washington Post analysis confirmed this, finding that 63% of murderers are arrested when the victim is white, but only 46% when the victim is Black.


This does not diminish the pain and anguish that anyone feels when a loved one is taken from them. All cases of murder, no matter the racial makeup of the person, are heinous and tragic. But what if no one was looking for your loved one? They didn’t believe you when you reported them missing? The media sided with law enforcement and never ran your story? This is a scenario that can happen in any community but is more likely to happen in Black communities. In 2020, a study published in the scientific journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity found that “victims killed in predominantly Black neighborhoods receive less news coverage than those killed in non-Hispanic White neighborhoods. Those killed in predominantly Black or Hispanic neighborhoods are also less likely to be discussed as multifaceted, complex people.”


In one of the best sequences in Murphy’s series, Glenda Cleveland, played by Nash-Betts, is recognized for helping to bring Dahmer to justice. Cleveland, who is Black, called the police on several occasions and alerted them that something “was off” with her neighbor Jeffrey Dahmer. Her calls were never investigated. In the film, while she is being honored, the police are also being honored in a separate event. Her ceremony takes place in a room the size of a broom closet with stale coffee and donuts. The officers’ ceremony takes place at a gala that looks to have been attended by Milwaukee’s finest.


This sequence is central to the series and shows how deeply ingrained the lines of inequity and division are: police against citizens, Black against white, right against wrong. It shows that even when concerned Black citizenry speak out to help solve crime, they are not held in high regard. It is for these victims, and these witnesses, that I hope our bingeing transforms into a clarion call for Black lives to not just matter, but to be held in the same high regard as the series many have come to love.

What ‘Dahmer’ is teaching us about race