Louis Theroux, Murder in Milwaukee

Was BBC Doc ‘Murder in Milwaukee’ Actually a Fair Portrayal?

Cream City citizens criticize filmmaker Louis Theroux’s documentary focusing on Milwaukee gun violence.

Earlier this week, English filmmaker Louis Theroux’s documentary series, “Dark States,” outraged some in the Milwaukee community when the show’s third and final installment, titled “Murder in Milwaukee,” aired on BBC Two. 

The hour-long episode shone a spotlight on crime in the city – specifically gun violence and homicide.

In one scene, Theroux accompanies the Milwaukee Police Department’s homicide division on an investigation.

In another, he speaks with local activist Shawnda Payne, who lives in what he refers to as among the most “lawless” areas of the city.

He also meets the family of Sylville Smith, who was shot and killed by a Milwaukee Police Officer in 2016.

Theroux presents the documentary as a balanced account of violence in the city. According to the BBC website: “On the streets of Milwaukee, Louis discovers a community who is often misunderstood by, and mistrustful of, the police. Arriving at a time of heightened tension between the police and the African-American community due to a recent police shooting, Louis hears from both sides of the debate and uncovers hope in a desperate city.”

But many community activists see it differently, suggesting that the portrayal is, in fact, one-sided and racist.

The show hasn’t aired in the U.S., and it can’t be streamed stateside either, but some clips can be found on YouTube and other websites.  



Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.