National Stuttering Association

Purple and turquoise starburst with the letters NSA in the middle.

At first glance, Samantha “Sam” Roblyer is just your average adolescent young woman living in America’s heartland. In a state that is college football-crazed, she’s a high school sophomore who lives with two siblings and her parents. She does typical things such as work part-time and participates in class. Despite the fact that she has stuttered ever since age four, Sam is active on a speech team. “It’s not debates though,” she said. “It is more interpretative. We do short scripts and perform-it like theatre, on a much smaller scale.” She’s also passionate about writing, with a strong emphasis on spoken word and slam poetry.

Like many who stutter, Sam is very open and forthright about her stutter. “I used to describe it as something that I didn’t like or something that held me back, but I do not have that negative opinion anymore. My outlook is more positive because it has brought me more opportunities than it has taken away.”

When The King’s Speech was released, it received major acclaim and was admired by the stuttering community. However, Sam was not exactly enthralled about watching it. “I had known it was out there, but I didn’t make an effort to see it,” she stated. “It was at a time when I didn’t feel so well about myself, and I wasn’t too thrilled to see a movie about something I wasn’t proud of.”

Eventually, as soon as the movie came to Netflix, she made a decision to view it. Afterward, her reaction was rather ambivalent. “I was certainly glad that we were getting some sort of representation on a wider scale, but I didn’t really love that it forced the idea that you have to seek treatment for it to be seen as a successful. The resolution of the entire movie was when King George delivered the speech fluently and I didn’t like how it was seen as the ultimate goal.” Yet Sam was quick to emphasize that the film did showcase stuttering in a realistic manner.” I definitely felt like they portrayed a lot of emotions that people who stutter feel on a daily basis, and I think a lot of us go through that. We want to get rid of it and that’s what matters. It shows how frustrated King George gets when his speech therapy isn’t working and the goal is to be fluent.”

However, it wasn’t the movie that caught her attention as much as the onscreen synopsis did. According to Sam, Netflix described the stuttering as “embarrassing”. Sam was clearly upset and had something to say about it. “It made me feel really frustrated because the writers who composed the synopsis on Netflix have never been through what people who stutter feel like, and they have never experienced anything like it as well, so to refer to that as embarrassing made me feel angry,” she explained. “People who stutter fight for acceptance with themselves and with the people around them, so when people refer to stuttering as embarrassing, it makes it harder for everyone.”

Sam wasn’t sure at first about contacting Netflix, but one of her friends convinced her to do so. “I was told we needed to seek out change, so he gave me the idea,” she commented. Still, she knew that getting a reply may have been a longshot. “I didn’t think they would view it as important like we did, but I knew this was important to me and many others who stuttered. It is a big company of course, and I didn’t expect them to give a response to one person.”

Little did Sam know that not only did Netflix acknowledge her letter, but they stepped up to the plate and made the situation right. “I was really shocked!” she said, very excited. Netflix agreed to make editorial changes to the onscreen synopsis. “I was shaking when I read their response, and I told my friends as soon as I received their email. I went online to check to see if they had changed it, and they did.”

While this may be a special victory for the stuttering community, Sam acknowledged “It is a small step in the right direction to getting the world to accept us, people who stutter, and to understand a little bit of what we go through.” Sam is also adamant that others should never be afraid to stand up. “I think a lot of us are scared to speak up for what we need or when something is wrong, but we need to speak up and call out those wrongs because otherwise they will never be fixed.”

by Steven Kaufman