Recently I have read a lot of criticism over Zac Efron’s portrayal of the infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy, in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile. The film, which will be released on Netflix later this year, is being accused of sexualizing a depraved man convicted of numerous brutal rapes and murders. Naturally, there is no shortage of people clambering to dissect just how damaging that kind of depiction could be, especially during this period of true crime obsession in pop culture (not to mention the traumatic effect it could have on the real people close to the situation).
I have not seen the movie and I can by no means claim to be an expert on Ted Bundy, but it seems to me that an inaccurate representation of him would be a disservice to everyone he victimized. If he was charming and charismatic, and those qualities helped enable him to prey on people, then that is how he should be portrayed. I don’t recall anyone claiming that Charlize Theron sexualized Aileen Wuornos by portraying her as a hooker in the 2003 film, Monster. Why? Because prostitution is inherently sexual, and her profession as a sex worker was included because it was relevant to her story as the men that she killed were her clients. Bundy’s story also has sexual undertones, and a refusal to shy away from them is not a glorification of him. Frankly, to ignore them would be a simplification of him.
It does not make sense to get upset over the supposed sexualization of a man who did actually use sex appeal to aid him in committing violent crimes. It may be more comfortable to imagine villains in a more Disney-fied way, but it isn’t realistic. Ted Bundy was a sadistic killer. He was also a man that many women assessed to be alluring and innocuous. That is part of what made him so terrifying. To sexualize something means to make it sexual. It is, by definition, impossible to sexualize something that is already sexual. Unless they made the creative decision to dress Efron in porn worthy bondage gear (which is possible, but again, I haven’t seen it), I do not believe that the project is guilty of sexualizing a murderer.