Tell Them You Love Me Image

Tell Them You Love Me

By Alan Ng | June 28, 2024

NOW ON NETFLIX! Nick August-Perna’s documentary, Tell Them You Love Me, is a heartbreaking story in so many ways. It shows how hope can be a powerful weapon, leaving devastation in its wake. The film is part of Netflix’s true crime documentary series. It features the Johnson family: mother Daisy and sons John and Derrick. Derrick is the youngest of Daisy’s boys and was born with a non-verbal form of cerebral palsy.

As Derrick entered adulthood, his brother John came across a story of a woman in a similar situation as Derrick, able to communicate through a technique known as Facilitated Communication (FC). With the help of Rutgers Professor and FC expert Anna Stubblefield, she took on Derrick as a client and taught him how to use a keyboard to communicate with his family and the world.

Over time, Derrick could communicate with eloquence and proficiency. He had a high level of intelligence but an inability to express himself because of cerebral palsy. What FC allowed Derrick to do was not only open his relationship up with his mother and brother but also find a voice in this world. As Derrick’s true intelligence and maturity revealed itself, so did his desire for love and attraction for his mentor, Anna Stubblefield. The two would have an affair, which ultimately led to her arrest and prison time.

“He had a high level of intelligence but an inability to express himself because of cerebral palsy.”

Going into Tell Them You Love Me, I already had my bias. Having a family member with autism, I found myself watching a PBS Frontline documentary about Facilitated Communication and how it was essentially a scam, unconscious though it might have been. That documentary is directly referenced here. We find out that it wasn’t Derrick’s thoughts and feelings he “expressed” to the world but the thoughts and feelings of the facilitator guiding Derrick’s hand on the keyboard. This meant that Anna Stubblefield ultimately seduced herself in the guise of a facilitated conversation and sexually assaulted Derrick, who still had the maturity of a child and could not consent.

The most exciting aspect is that Stubblefield believes wholeheartedly in Facilitated Communication. The chasm between the Johnsons and Anna Stubblefield and her supporters (which is many) is vast. This is the great tension of the film to see someone so entrenched in her belief and seeing how her side is spun is utterly fascinating. Kudos to Stubblefield for granting filmmakers an extensive interview. She still believes the Derrick she knew is still in there and still fights for that person.

I mentioned earlier the heartbreaking situations like this that arise from hope. Facilitated Communication offered hope to families with non-communicative children. For a brief moment, parents believed they were establishing a meaningful connection with their child, only to discover that it was all a false hope. This incident had a devastating impact on the Johnsons, particularly on Derrick.

Again, Netflix continues to provide a steady stream of fascinating true crime stories that will have you transfixed to your television for an hour. Tell Them You Love Me falls right in that tradition.

Tell Them You Love Me (2024)

Directed and Written: Nick August-Perna

Starring: Derrick Johnson, John Johnson, Daisy Johnson, Anna Stubblefield, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Tell Them You Love Me Image

"…will have you transfixed..."

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