Is ‘Tell Them You Love Me’ Netflix’s most disturbing documentary to date?
(Credit: Netflix)

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Is 'Tell Them You Love Me' Netflix's most disturbing documentary to date?

True crime has always been one of the most potent weapons in the Netflix arsenal, with Tell Them You Love Me the latest to transfix subscribers while simultaneously making them feel seriously uneasy.

Louie Theroux executive produces the feature-length documentary from director Nick August-Perna, which asks serious questions about disability, power dynamics, the nature of consent, and the abuse that can potentially be carried out by those in a position of power.

The crux is the alleged relationship between Anna Stubblefield and Derrick Johnson, a married white university professor and a nonverbal Black man with cerebral palsy. They developed a sexual relationship she maintained was consensual on the part of both parties, whereas his mother claimed he lacked the intellectual or mental capabilities to do any such thing.

Stubblefield was ultimately sentenced to 12 years in prison on two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, but her conviction was eventually overturned in 2017 after she pled guilty to criminal sexual contact and was released based on time served. It’s not an easy watch, and it asks pertinent societal questions, but is it Netflix’s most disturbing doc ever?

It’s all down to how each individual viewer interprets and assesses the events of Tell Them You Love Me at the end of the day, but the streaming service is hardly lacking in hard-hitting documentaries that end up becoming an endurance test for subscribers to make it all the way through.

For instance, Our Father unravels the web of deceit that saw a respected doctor emerge as the illicit sperm donor to hundreds of children with the parents completely unaware, which is all kinds of fucked up. Don’t F**k With Cats shocked audiences to the core by shining a light on how one man’s animal cruelty mobilised an online army to track him down, and Worst Roommate Ever is more than enough to convince anybody that co-habitation is firmly off the table for the foreseeable future.

The phrase different strokes for different folks is a cliché for a reason, which extends to just how troubled any individual will be by the content of any documentary. Tell Them You Love Me definitely carries those undertones in the way it evolves from detailing the beginnings of a romance into a criminal trial that saw one party end up incarcerated for their actions against the other, despite Stubblefield’s insistence it was mutual.

Even if it’s not Netflix’s most disturbing doc, the implications alone put it right up there.