Tell Them You Love Me (2023) Review

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Paging James Randi

“Tell Them You Love Me” is a 2023 documentary that examines the highly controversial and emotionally charged case of Anna Stubblefield, a former ethics professor at Rutgers University-Newark. The film meticulously details Stubblefield’s 2015 conviction for sexually assaulting Derrick Johnson, a nonverbal man with cerebral palsy.

The story begins in 2009 when Stubblefield, then 39, is approached by John Johnson, her student, about his brother Derrick’s condition. Moved by Derrick’s plight, Stubblefield offers to help him improve his communication skills. Using a keyboard with an LED screen, Derrick, with Stubblefield’s assistance, theoretically expresses himself and even enrolls in a university class.

As their sessions progress, Stubblefield, who is married with two young children, claims that she and Derrick, then 28, developed a mutual affection and eventually entered into a consensual sexual relationship. However, Derrick’s mother, Daisy Johnson, vehemently disputes this, arguing that her son lacked the capacity for such a relationship. She asserts that Derrick’s use of the keyboard was not genuine communication but rather a result of Stubblefield manipulating his hands.

The Good

The Good: If you ever want to explain the difference between someone who is retarded and someone who is mentally ill, “Tell Them You Love Me” provides a good shorthand to keep them straight. The abuse victim is retarded, the perpetrator is mentally ill.

“Tell Them You Love Me” is also a salutary reminder of an important life lesson. There are some people who are simply crazy and live in a reality not like yourself (or anyone). And sometimes these people appear otherwise normal and accomplished. Sometimes these people are in your extended family and workplace.

Anna Stubblefield appears perfectly normal. She is very sure of her reality. She is batshit crazy. Anna knows all the codewords and DEI terms. She has a couple of degrees and a professorship. She seems to take the high road and projects a progressive, educated point of view against what she perceives as a well-meaning but uninformed family. Yet “Tell Them You Love Me” lets her talk at length. And the more she talks, the more it dawns on one that she is nuttier than a fruitcake.

The Bad

The Bad: While certain members of my household disagree. (They let her hang herself is their argument) I still think “Tell Them You Love Me” goes way too easy on Anna Stubblefield. The woman manipulates a family to give her access to a man with the mental age of a one-year-old whom she raped under the guise of helping him and being in love. The narcissism displayed by Anna and the gaslighting of this poor family is off the charts.

I also think “Tell Them You Love Me” goes way too easy on facilitated communication. It is not a controversial technique. It is an outright scam perpetrated on vulnerable families. The practitioners are no different than the “doctors” who steal money and hope from cancer victims with psychic surgery.

The Ugly

The Ugly: I notice that woman never seem to get the jail time or punishment (or consequences) that their male counterparts get in the criminal justice system. And here is another shining example. I assure you if the genders were reversed, the book would have been thrown with much greater force and no one would be free after two years because the court did not allow Ouija Board testimony.

Anna Stubblefield is not the only person living in an alternate reality. There are plenty of people who have decided that this is the test case for thier particular axe to grind. You have disabled rights activists teaming up with NAMBLA sympathizers arguing since the man apparently became erect it is not really rape.

The New York Times even published an op ed supporting the right of woman to rape the mentally challenged as long as the mentally challenged enjoy it. (Seriously, here is the link). The comments on that piece are filled with plenty of people with this mindset as well. It really comes across as a “stop the planet I want to get off” moment.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: “Tell Them You Love Me” reminds me a bit of that wonderful documentary 2012’s The Imposter. The crucial difference is Frédéric Bourdin knows what he is doing is wrong (Albeit with a “I am just not a stinker” Bugs Bunny grin).

Anna Stubblefield (and some of her supporters) have no idea why having sex with a mentally retarded individual with the mentality of a one-year-old is wrong. She is living in a completely different reality than anyone else.

“Tell Them You Love Me” is not as good as The Imposter. It leaves out some facts (The family won a serious civil reward because of all of this). “Tell Them You Love Me” does not properly cover the ex-husband and two kids Anna abandoned and humiliated outside of the husband’s scathing and well-written letter being read in court. It does not take the whole disability rights movement to task for enabling so much of this nonsense.

“Tell Them You Love Me” also spends a little too much time and energy on the racial angle where the issue is more class than race. (Anna’s ex-husband was African American as well and her children bi-racial. She seemed to look down on Derrick’s mother because of her taste in music and food and level of education rather than race. This unnecessarily divisive argument (supported apparently by Derrick’s family, unfortunately) muddies the waters in a pretty straightforward rape case.

Like “The Imposter” “Tell Them You Love Me” turns into a horror movie in the last twenty minutes. Alas, in this case the horror is loose among society rather than getting a just and ironic outcome. Anna Stubblefield and her supporters are out there walking free. And she thinks truly in her heart she did nothing wrong. And that is a scary thought.

The fact that Anna Stubblefield was genuinely shocked that the Rutgers University let her go after she was charged with molesting one of her charges on campus speaks volumes. The fact she was an ethics professor and chaired a department almost brings this to the level of parody.
I love this entire exchange that a professor of African American literature gave. You can tell she does not want to be politically incorrect and be open to charges of offending the disabled. You can also tell she thinks the man in her class with someone answering his questions and typing for him is complete nonsense.

As an aside, even if Derrick Johnson could speak and write tomorrow, language skills take time to develop. A lot of time. That alone should show how ridiculous his taking college classes with no education or background in speech or writing is.

So independent professionals brought in by the court find that Derrick Johnson has the intellect of a twelve-month-old. Not twelve years old, mind you… Twelve months. At one point when describing Derrick’s secret intelligence, one that only she apparently could see, Anna describes when Derek is hungry he taps the refrigerator. Um Anna, my cat does that.
Much like my cat, Derick can physically use a keyboard. And like my cat, most of what he types is nonsense.
Lady Justice (or Themis if you prefer) is looking mighty fine at the Essex County Courthouse.
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