Kim Alsup was a COVID coordinator on Netflix's "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story."
She tweeted about microaggressions she experienced on set, a couple days before the series premiered.
After receiving death threats, Alsup says she's now ready to share the full story.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Kim Alsup, who was a COVID coordinator on "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story." It has been edited for length and clarity.
I've been in the film industry for around eight years. I started out as a production assistant (PA), but I worked my way up. I've worked on several productions in LA as a COVID testing coordinator, including "Inventing Anna," "Grey's Anatomy," and "Dear White People."
I was the COVID testing coordinator for "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" — which basically meant that I was responsible for making sure that the cast, crew, and background actors were tested for COVID-19. We shot "Dahmer" in 2021, at the height of the pandemic.
It's not always easy being a Black crew member on a major production, because you'll often be one of the few. But the worst experience I ever had as a Black woman on a production was "Dahmer."
I felt broken mentally and emotionally after the experience, and I left the show early. There was only a week left of shooting, but I moved on to another job to protect my mental health.
This is what really happened on set
When I first got the job, I didn't even know what the project was about. I had just worked as a COVID coordinator on another Netflix show, "Inventing Anna," which was a great experience. The environment on set really comes from the top down; since that was a Shonda Rhimes show, the crew environment as a person of color was very comfortable.
After "Inventing Anna" was over, a connection let me know there was an opening for a Covid coordinator on another Netflix show, so I signed up.
I interviewed for "Dahmer" on a Friday and started work the following Monday. The production said I came highly recommended.
The first month of pre-production went smoothly. My job was to regularly test people in the production office, people doing construction, people in the costume department, and anyone else who needed to be on set in the weeks leading up to shooting.
Things changed once production started
Once we started shooting, I started being called another person's name. I'd gently correct them, but several times I'd hear, "You look like this other girl."
It turns out that another Black woman was added to the COVID team to help when production had begun. When I finally met her, I was shocked because we looked nothing alike, besides the fact that we were both Black. She also told me that she was being called my name.
I don't believe there's anything inherently malicious about the fact that people were confusing me with the other Black woman on set, but it proves my point that the below-the-line crew on this show was not diverse. People were confused because there were only two of us.
I felt annoyed. I had memorized 300 names as part of my job, so why couldn't they remember two people's names?
I believe that this mix-up was just a symptom of a larger culture problem, which I would experience as the production went on.
I had a coworker who stereotyped me as 'angry,' and that microaggression eventually cost me my job
The worst experience on set came from the interactions I had with a team member, who I'll call 'A' (for anonymous). She took a month's leave from the job during the production, which meant that her workload fell to me.
I handled it the best I could: creative changes were made on the fly, so testing people for COVID in time for shooting became more difficult. We needed 24-48 hours to get test results back.
With A on leave, I adjusted the way we handled testing so that it was easier for everyone on production. I'd gotten feedback that people liked the way I was doing things, so I felt good about my work.
When A returned a month later, she wasn't happy that things had been changed and accused me of trying to steal her job. When I explained I wasn't trying to step on her toes and that I was only trying to get the work done, she said that I came off angry — but I only ever spoke to her in my normal voice. After all, I'm a Black woman who's worked on many mostly white sets, so I'm always careful about how I speak to my coworkers. I'm very aware of the "angry Black woman" stereotype.
After that, A just stopped pitching in and left me to do the work. I raised the issue with my supervisor, but nothing seemed to change or deter A. It seemed like she just wanted to sit and wait for me to drop the ball while I tried to handle it all on my own, so that she could submit a complaint about me to the production.
A made multiple formal complaints about me — but I wasn't doing anything wrong
Whenever A would make a formal complaint about me, I'd be called in by the production to defend myself and my actions. I'd have proof that I hadn't done anything wrong, and that would save my job for a day or a week, before she'd make another complaint.
I kept reaching out to my supervisor about what A was doing, before ultimately taking the issue to Netflix's HR. By this point, I'm feeling harassed by A's comments towards me in person and via text. Netflix gathered me, A, and our supervisor together on a Zoom to try to diffuse the situation and make everyone's job descriptions clear.
They told us to only communicate with one another only when a witness was present, which I was relieved to hear. It was a nice effort from HR. But once the meeting ended, everything returned to the way it was before.
A's attitude towards me got even worse after the Zoom. She told me in-person that I should just quit, because she'd never stop making my job more difficult.
Eventually I learned from another crew member, who was close to the conversations that were happening behind the scenes, that I was being 'quiet-fired' so to speak — resources (like help with the workload) were being withheld so that the job would be so unbearable that I'd quit, or so that I would mess up bad enough without help to justify my being fired.
A was personal friends with higher-ups on the production, including my boss, so I felt like she would ultimately get her way.
I quit the production when there was only a week left of shooting
I couldn't take it anymore. As much as I wanted to stick it out on "Dahmer," it was really affecting my mental health. So I reached out to HR again, two weeks after that initial meeting and let them know that things had gotten much worse.
I told them I would like to be released from my duties on the production. You never want to quit a big production because it can hurt your work opportunities in the future, so it's better to be released.
The HR rep I'd been working with helped me wrap up what I was working on and released me from the show — they paid me for three days of work, and when that week ended, I was gone.
The media attention after my tweets were publicized added a new layer of negativity
When the trailer for the show came out, I was reminded of my experience — I felt myself have a PTSD-type of response to seeing the trailer. So I tweeted about it to my small circle of Twitter followers.
I woke up one morning and saw 40,000 notifications on my Twitter. Usually when I tweet, it's like speaking into a void: no one ever likes or retweets them. So I was shocked when my tweet about "Dahmer" blew up.
Turns out, my tweet had been reported on by major news outlets. I wasn't offered an opportunity to tell my whole story, and since I hadn't provided much detail in the tweet, the articles made it seem like the only problem I encountered was being called another girl's name.
My friends and family started texting me, "Hey, did you know that you were in this publication, or this one, or this one?" I had no idea.
The online harassment lasted three weeks
There were threats on my life and a whole bunch of racist comments directed at me via Twitter and Instagram.
I've been actively looking for jobs since June, because I decided that I wanted to stop working as a COVID coordinator and transition into a creative role like a producer's or showrunner's assistant. This media attention hasn't helped my situation.
Whenever someone googles my name, so many articles about my tweet come up.
The experience I had was tied in with the lack of diversity within the crew: Black crew members did not last long on this show. Yes, there were multiple Black directors, cast members, and writers on this series. What I'm referring to is the environment behind the director's chair: the people working on the actual production, which is where I worked as a COVID coordinator.
It's not that unusual for a major production to not have many people of color on its crew, but it's often not a good sign of the environment on set, in my opinion.
I've seen comments on social media like, "Well, we looked on IMDb," and they think a few Black names somehow proves there were a lot of Black people on the set. Unless you worked on that show, you have no idea — crew members were credited for all of the episodes, even if they only worked one or two episodes and left. But IMDb doesn't show that.
After all this, I wouldn't take back my tweet — this wasn't the first time I've had a terrible experience as a crew member, and I deserve to be able to say my piece in my own little virtual space.
I just want people to treat people better. Black people — Black women specifically — have it hard enough already. Treating people the way I was treated on that set was not okay.
I'd rather tell the whole story as I experienced it, not just a small detail, if I'm going to suffer the consequences. We shouldn't have to live in the fear of never getting another job for speaking up.
Editor's note: Netflix declined to comment on human resource matters between employees and the number of Black crew members on this production.
If you work in Hollywood and would like to share your story, email Eboni Boykin-Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the original article on Business Insider