Zac Efron, the man that brought us such earth-shattering performances as “High School Musical” heartthrob Troy Bolton and lovable frat boy Teddy Sanders in the “Neighbors” franchise is now playing the sexy serial killer next door: Ted Bundy.
With the release of the trailer for “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile,” a major motion picture about the life of Ted Bundy (starring Zac Efron) social media has been exploding with conflicting opinions about casting Efron as one of the world’s most infamous killers.
The argument against the casting choice claims the movie is romanticizing a man who raped and murdered over 30 women by casting such an attractive man in the role. The other side argues that because Ted Bundy was considered to be a charming and attractive man during his very public trials, he should be portrayed that way.
The problem I have with the biopic is not necessarily the casting choice for Bundy, but rather the mood of the trailer. Upbeat, electric guitar music plays while a charming family man gets accused of murder. Voice after voice claims he’s innocent while we watch snippets of him defending himself in court, hugging his wife and media interviews with people claiming he couldn’t have done it.
I completely understand that anyone who plays Bundy in a biopic needs to be attractive and charming in order to portray him accurately. However, Zac Efron is objectively one of the hottest movie stars out there, especially to younger generations who will be one of the largest audiences of the film. I don’t need to see tweets like, “Ted Bundy was lowkey a snack” from 13-year-old girls.
It’s the over-romanticization of people like Bundy that becomes a problem. Lusting after a man who raped and killed more than women is dangerous. Just because someone is attractive and charming does not necessarily mean they are good people. Simply because someone doesn’t look like the stereotypical creepy killer or monstrous evil person doesn’t mean they aren’t one.
Attractive white men who turn out to be criminals and mass murderers tend to get more favorable media coverage than any other demographic. All you have to do is compare the headlines when a young white male is accused of a crime versus a black male of the same age. Back in the 1970s, some newspaper headlines about Ted Bundy included, “charming killer seems ‘one of us’” from the Associated Press and “all-American boy on trial” from the New York Times. Media outlets assumed his innocence before his trials even began.
Headlines like these downplayed the heinous crimes committed by this “all-American boy” over the course of two decades. I fear that once again we are supporting media shaping the way we view famous killers by focusing on the idea that they didn’t seem like the “type” to rape/kill/eat people.
Whether the film industry chooses to play into this culture where rapists like Brock Turner have a “bright future” ahead of them and mass murderers like the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock who killed 59 people are just “unexplainable outliers,” the damage is insidious. We might not all notice it as it’s happening, but the next time an attractive man does something criminal we may catch ourselves attempting to justify his actions.
The title of the biopic is “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile,” which is a great way to describe Ted Bundy. However, I am eager to see how the film will go about portraying Bundy as a whole. If the only real damning commentary on Bundy is in the title as the trailer suggests, the film will fall short. As long as the film ends with zero sympathies for Bundy’s character and gives a voice to the more than 30 women whose lives were tragically cut short by Bundy, I might be able to get behind this film.