TUBI EXCLUSIVE: Deadly Cheer Mom (2021)

This was originally called Cheerleader Conspiracy which I think is a pretty wonderful title. It even starts with some drama, as Beth Hartford (Tommi Rose) gets named cheer captain of Bridgebay High School, which some see as fishy as her mother Den (Mena Suvari, whose career spans American Beauty to American Pie movies to the TV series American Horror Story and American Woman and then goes off to be the lead in The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson) is the coach.

All of the girls are competing for a scholarship to Rossmore Carmel University and Beth is in the lead until a video of her underage drinking and slambooking her fellow cheer team members — yes, I have seen too many teen films and yes, my terminology is old and analog — and that’s when this movie asks all of us to know what a deepfake is and believes that high school cheerleaders have the skills — or is it their parents? — to make one.

By the time this is over, you’ll wonder who the bad guy is. Is it rival Ashley (Jazzy Kae Williams) and her mother Marisol (Karla Mosley)? The way too nice Olivia (Alexa Sutherland) and her mom Rebecca (Ashley Scott)? Or are our leads horrible people who don’t even realize just how much they’ve made everyone else absolutely detest them?

Spoiler warning — this movie has an astounding ending in which Beth goes to jail for murder and the killer — whose mother screams, I should’ve aborted you the minute I had the chance!” — gets the scholarship and steals Beth’s boyfriend. That’s the kind of weirdness that never happens on Lifetime, where it feels like this movie kind of should be.

I was going to say that this is the kind of movie where people start worrying about deepfakes without knowing that they take a lot of effort to make, but this is based on a true story. Raffaela Spone, a Bucks County, PA cheer mom, was accused of making deepfake videos of her daughter Allie’s cheerleading rivals vaping, drinking and posing nude, then sending them to coaches, along with texts that told the girls “you should kill yourself.”

Raffaela was arrested on six counts of misdemeanor harassment and cyber harassment of a child. According to Cosmopolitan, Bucks County DA Matt Weintraub said to the press, “This tech is now available to anyone with a smartphone. Your neighbor down the street, somebody who holds a grudge, we just have no way of knowing. It’s another way for an adult to now prey on children.”

Except that, well, that wasn’t true.

The cops had made a judgment call and experts in deepfake started commenting online and in the media that there was no way that someone with no training could do this. And all those texts and threatening images — and even the videos — had no evidence of ever coming from Raffaela’s phone. A digital-forensics expert who’d made a complete copy of the confiscated phone testified that there was no way that that phone could create and had never sent any of the threats or media that implicated the girls.

A detective even went on to admit — under oath — that he had never even bothered to look at Raffaela’s phone.

And then the officer who first said that it was all a deepfake, Matthew Reiss, got busted for possession of child porn yet his report remains on record. Bucks County DA’s office dropped the deepfake accusation and finally convicted Raffala with three counts of misdemeanor cyber harassment n May of 2022. The media stories I’ve found never point out that all of the police evidence against her doesn’t even exist.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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