New Louis Theroux Documentary Leaves Viewers Deeply Disturbed

June 28, 2024 1:02 pm in by

Louis Theroux’s latest documentary, Tell Them You Love Me, has left viewers deeply disturbed. Known for his probing interviews, Theroux delves into disability rights, race, and consent through a harrowing true story.

A Respected Activist

The documentary centres on Derrick Johnson, a 30-year-old non-verbal man with cerebral palsy who requires constant care. Enter Anna Stubblefield, a professor and disability rights advocate, who claimed she could help Derrick communicate using a controversial method called facilitated communication.

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The Blossoming Relationship

Initially, Derrick seemed to make progress, communicating through a keyboard and even attending university classes. However, the relationship took a troubling turn when Anna, who was married, began a sexual relationship with Derrick.

Consent or Coercion?

Anna insisted their relationship was consensual, but Derrick’s mother, Daisy Johnson, argued that her son couldn’t consent to a sexual relationship. The family claimed Anna was the one typing the messages attributed to Derrick.

The Trial and Verdict

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After Anna revealed their relationship, she was reported to the authorities. In 2015, she was convicted of sexual assault, receiving two 12-year sentences. These were later overturned on appeal in 2017, and Anna was released after serving two years. She maintains her innocence to this day.

Louis Theroux’s Interest

Theroux was drawn to the story after reading about it over a decade ago. He found it raised significant social questions about race, sexuality, and disability. He emphasizes the vulnerability of non-verbal disabled individuals to misinterpretation, making the stakes in such cases particularly high.

Topping the Charts

Tell Them You Love Me quickly soared to the top of Netflix’s US charts, being compared to the gripping nature of Baby Reindeer. The documentary portrays the complex and emotionally charged nature of the relationship, captivating viewers with its twists and turns.

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A Divisive Story

The film features interviews with key figures, including Anna, Derrick’s family, and experts on facilitated communication. The documentary aims to present a balanced view of the case, highlighting the profound and often conflicting emotions involved.

The Broader Implications

The story raises numerous issues beyond the immediate case, including race dynamics and the white saviour complex. It also questions the effectiveness and ethical implications of facilitated communication, a method widely discredited by the scientific community.

The Personal Connection

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For filmmaker Nick August-Perna, the story resonated on a personal level due to his experiences with a cognitively impaired uncle. This connection drove his commitment to capturing the nuance and humanity in the film.

Capturing All Angles

The documentary avoids easy answers, instead offering a complex portrayal of the events. This approach required extensive cooperation from all involved, ensuring their perspectives were represented fairly.

A Controversial Release

Despite its complexity, the film faced challenges in gaining acceptance at film festivals, reflecting a disconnect between festival juries and general audiences. However, it found success on platforms like Sky, which embraced its intricate narrative.

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Reflecting on the Outcome

The film concludes with a visit to Derrick, now living with his mother. It leaves viewers contemplating his potential and the impact of his circumstances, providing a poignant end to a deeply unsettling story.

Tell Them You Love Me is a compelling exploration of love, power, and vulnerability, demonstrating Theroux’s ability to tackle difficult subjects with sensitivity and depth.