Sky announces Tell Them You Love Me doc
January 15, 2024
Sky has announced that Tell Them You Love Me will launch on Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW on February 3rd.
The Sky Original feature documentary is co-produced with Topic streaming service, and will be distributed by Kino Lorber in North America. The film, which is produced by Louis Theroux’s production company, Mindhouse, and directed by Nick August-Perna, explores the controversial affair between a married female professor and a non-verbal black man with cerebral palsy. The relationship and high-profile criminal trial that followed challenges our perceptions of disability and the nature of consent.
When the pair first meet, Anna Stubblefield is a respected academic and a disability rights advocate; passionate in her belief that the most essential part of the human experience is the ability to communicate. 30-year-old Derrick Johnson has never spoken a word in his life, and requires 24/7 care and support by his mother and brother.
During his early childhood, Derrick’s family were told by medical professionals that, in addition to his physical disabilities, he was severely cognitively impaired. But Anna disagreed with this diagnosis, and when she first tells Derrick’s family that she can help him communicate with the outside world, they are thrilled. They had always sensed there was “something more going on” with Derrick and were eager to know what he thought about all day long, when he might be in pain, what his hopes and dreams were.
Anna introduces Derrick to a controversial technique that involves training him to overcome his physical impairments so that he could type on a keyboard. After almost 2 years of work, she claims to have ‘unlocked his mind’ – he could now express complex thoughts, attend college classes, and write thoughtful essays. Excited by Derrick’s reported progress, his mother Daisy describes it as “like the porch light’s coming on”. But Anna had more to reveal: not only was Derrick a highly intelligent man but they had also fallen in love.
As a result, Derrick’s family begin to question his miraculous transformation, and Anna’s intentions. It soon leads to one of the most divisive criminal trials in recent times, challenging perceptions of disability and the nature of consent. Through exclusive archive and present-day footage as well as interviews with those on both sides of the case, Tell Them You Love Me weaves together a riveting and endlessly nuanced story about communication, disability, race, and sex.
Theroux, Executive Producer, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Mindhouse, commented: “When I started Mindhouse four years ago, this was exactly the kind of morally complex film I’d hoped we might be involved in making. 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.”
Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual at Sky, said: “The case of Anna and Derrick is extraordinarily complex, and we’re thrilled to be working with Louis Theroux and the team at Mindhouse who have done an excellent job of sensitively unravelling the nuanced and specific moral questions this case poses. We’re certain audiences will find this documentary both confronting and compelling.”
Tell Them You Love Me is co-produced with Topic streaming service, who will distribute the film through Kino Lorber in North America. NBCUniversal Global Distribution will handle international sales excluding North America on behalf of Sky Studios.