British documentarian Nick Broomfield had been searching for a story to tell about his adopted home of Los Angeles ever since he moved to the city in the mid-Nineties. His new film, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, is a quintessential L.A. tale — a gruesome true-crime tale rooted in the the social and economic inequalities that plague the city.
“When I came across the story of the Grim Sleeper,” Broomfield tells Rolling Stone, “what was amazing about it was that it was about a community that was abandoned, about disposable people…which is why it took a computer to catch a serial killer, who might have killed over a hundred people.”
Tales of the Grim Sleeper tells the harrowing story of the 30-year search (or lack thereof) for a Los Angeles serial killer who was accused of 12 grisly homicides — and possibly committed far more — between the mid-Eighties and 2010, when the alleged murderer Lonnie Franklin was arrested. While the L.A.P.D. knew early on that the Sleeper was targeting black women in South Central Los Angeles, they did not alert the community of that fact until 2007.
In this chat with Rolling Stone, Broomfield talks about the challenge of entering the disenfranchised, depressed South Central community as an outsider, as well as how the Grim Sleeper’s story relates to the recent killings of unarmed black men by police in Ferguson and Staten Island.
“I think it’s about disenfranchised people who don’t have a voice, who do not have the right to participate in local politics, in the selection of the kind of police force they want. We’ve seen this in Ferguson, it’s exactly the same in downtown Los Angeles, it’s exactly the same probably in parts of New York and Chicago and any big urban city area — and it reflects a bigger set of political priorities which have gone very astray since the late Seventies.”
In another clip, Broomfield talks about one particularly hairy situation he encountered while working on his 1994 film about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Tracking Down Maggie. Broomfield recalled how he and his crew were in Houston tracking down leads about shady arms deals Thatcher and her son were allegedly involved in, and how they eventually found themselves being followed.
“Normally, you can assess the dangers and just behave well, like if you go into South Central, have someone who’s respected in the community take you in, have a guide,” Broomfield says. “When you’re dealing with highly respected international politicians, like Margaret Thatcher, be really careful if you start digging in their dirt, because you’ll end up hanging in your closet.”
Tales of the Grim Sleeper opens in theaters today, December 19th, and will start airing on HBO in April. The film has already been shortlisted for an Academy Award.