Vili Fualaau, the late Mary Kay Letourneau’s former student and estranged husband, is not a fan of the acclaimed film “May December.”
Despite director Todd Haynes’ attempt at giving the character based on Fualaau his due focus in the film, the former student involved in the child rape scandal that captured the public’s attention in the ’90s felt disrespected that he hadn’t been consulted for the project.
“If they had reached out to me, we could have worked together on a masterpiece. Instead, they chose to do a ripoff of my original story,” Fualaau told the Hollywood Reporter. “I’m offended by the entire project and the lack of respect given to me — who lived through a real story and is still living it.”
“May December” follows 36-year-old Joe Yoo (Charles Melton) and his 59-year-old wife, Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), who navigate raising three college-age children in the same town that had been scandalized decades prior by the two becoming lovers just as Yoo was finishing seventh grade.
The film’s screenwriter, Samy Burch, said that he had been inspired by the case of Letourneau, a Washington state schoolteacher who pleaded guilty in 1997 to raping her sixth-grade student, Fualaau. Years later, after Letourneau’s release, the two married and raised their children together until separating 14 years later; Letourneau died of cancer in 2020, with Fualaau by her side.
The film tells the story through the lens of an actor, Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman), who stays with the couple at their home as she prepares to portray the complicated and “morally gray” Atherton-Yoo. Haynes re-created moments from televised interviews and tabloid covers, but told Collider that the film has a “treacherous” quality in the way it guides the audience away from their expectations or presumptions about the characters.
“What’s so lovely about the way it’s structured is that it’s the third act that opens up the space for Charles’s character Joe, to really find the focus of the film,” he told the outlet. “But it happens with such a different kind of language, and it’s very delicate, and it’s very tender, and the rest of the film hasn’t really been that way.”
Melton, best known for “Riverdale,” told Collider that when he read the script, he felt instantly connected to the character.
“I immediately felt this connection to Joe, who this man was, his feelings. Though our experiences are different, I found a lot of parallels in my own life,” he said. “Just diving into who this man was and what he represented and this responsibility that he had at such a young age, that he carried to the age of 36. Just this repressed human who kind of starts asking himself the questions that he’s never really had the chance to ask.”
Fualaau told the Hollywood Reporter that he understands that his life has been a saga in many ways and that he would have welcomed a film that thoughtfully and thoroughly captured his experience.
“I love movies — good movies. And I admire ones that capture the essence and complications of real-life events. You know, movies that allow you to see or realize something new every time you watch them,” he told the outlet. “Those kinds of writers and directors — someone who can do that — would be perfect to work with, because my story is not nearly as simple as this movie [portrays].”
Representatives for Haynes and Melton did not immediately respond to The Times’ request for comment.