Evidence of Cruel Optimism: Nick Broomfield's Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)

Rosie White

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Representations of women who kill often work hard to contain and explain their actions, attempting to manage the ways in which female killers disturb binary accounts of gender and sexual identity. Aileen Wuornos, as she appears in Broomfield’s two documentary films, is the abject other to postfeminist formulations of femininity. As a working class woman, a lesbian, a former sex worker and a prison inmate, Wuornos does not conform to the late-twentieth and early twenty-first century ‘common sense’ that Rosalind Gill argues has established postfeminism as ‘a kind of gendered neoliberalism’. Whereas postfeminist media representations focus on youthful white heterofemininity and a narrative of success founded on neoliberal fictions of equal opportunity, Wuornos’ case exposes the faultlines in such fantasies and draws attention to how they can damage or destroy the nonconforming subject.
This chapter returns to the depiction of Aileen Wuornos in Nick Broomfield’s 2003 documentary as a means of examining the ways in which women who kill expose what Lauren Berlant has termed ‘cruel optimism.’
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen Who Kill
Subtitle of host publicationGender and Sexuality in Film and Series of the Post-Feminist Era
EditorsCristelle Maury, David Roche
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-3501-1561-3
ISBN (Print)978-1-3501-1559-0
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameLibrary of Gender and Popular Culture


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