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23rd Jun 2024

Viewers praise ‘incredibly unsettling’ true crime doc available to stream in the UK

Ryan Price

It’s a bizarre and complicated true story.

A new documentary, which has just been made available to stream in the UK, has been praised by viewers for it’s ‘unsettling’ and complicated story.

According to Netflix, Tell Them You Love Me follows “a relationship between a married white professor and a Black man with cerebral palsy [which] sparks controversy when the man’s mother alleges that her son is incapable of consent — leading to a nationwide debate over power dynamics, disability and race.”

The film is directed by Nick August-Perna (The Swell Season) and is executively produced by Louis Theroux.

According to The New York Times Magazine, Anna Stubblefield and Derrick Johnson first met through Derrick’s brother, John who was a student of Anna’s and had taken her philosophy and disability studies class at Rutgers University – Newark.

John later asked Anna if he could learn more about facilitated communication (FC) – an assisted typing technique which uses a facilitator to physically support a person’s hand or arm to spell out words on a keyboard. Anna was familiar with this technique after watching her mother use it.

However, Anna claimed to have taught Derrick how to communicate through FC, calling him an intellectual trapped in a body that couldn’t communicate, despite the fact that other experts had called his comprehension “limited” and lacked cognitive capacity.

As Anna and Derrick began to spend more time together, the university professor – who was married at the time – claimed that her and Derrick fell in love and embarked on a “consensual” sexual relationship.

Derrick’s mum Daisy, on hearing this, called the police. Anna was then charged in 2013 with two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault. No evidence related to FC was considered by the court because it wasn’t scientifically recognised.

But Anna’s verdict was overturned when a judge ruled that her original trial “unfairly excluded evidence related to the man’s capacity to give consent”. In a new trial, she accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty to sexual misconduct.

Anna Stubblefield (Tell Them You Love Me Trailer/Screenshot)

The riveting documentary uses exclusive footage and interviews with those on both sides of the case to ask whether or not Derrick, who has a non-verbal form of cerebral palsy, could’ve given consent to a relationship, physical and otherwise, with the professor.

Speaking to Netflix, Theroux said he first came across the story a decade ago.

“I was riveted by it,” he said. “It sat on the fault lines of so many big social questions — around race, sexuality, and, yes, disability.

“When I started Mindhouse (Theroux’s production company) four years ago, this was exactly the kind of morally complex film I’d hoped we might be involved in making,” he added.

“It deals with some of the most sensitive and difficult themes in the culture but does so in a way that is intelligent and forensic and never sensationalist.

Tell Them You Love Me is also just a powerful story which millions of people will enjoy watching and be totally engaged by. Nick is a terrific film-maker and it’s a privilege to have been able to work with him and his team.”

Tell Them You Love Me is available to stream now with a NOW TV Entertainment membership, or with a Sky subscription.