The recent release of the controversial new film “May December” has brought renewed attention to the infamous real-life relationship between Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau. Letourneau was Fualaau’s elementary school teacher when she began sexually abusing him at age 12. After serving time in prison, Letourneau eventually married Fualaau once he came of age. Their relationship and life together has long sparked controversy and debate. With the new movie loosely based on their story, many are reexamining and discussing their past.
Background on Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau
Mary Kay Letourneau was born in 1962 in Tustin, California. She worked as an elementary school teacher in Seattle during the 1990s. In 1996, when she was 34 years old, Letourneau began sexually abusing her 12-year-old student Vili Fualaau. Letourneau was married with four children at the time. Their illegal relationship was discovered in 1997 after Letourneau became pregnant with Fualaau’s child.
Letourneau pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree child rape and served over seven years in prison. Shortly after being released in 2004, Letourneau married Fualaau, who was an adult by that point. They went on to have two children together and lived together in Seattle as a married couple for over a decade.
In 2017, Fualaau filed for legal separation from Letourneau. Their divorce was finalized in 2019. The next year, in July 2020, Letourneau died at age 58 after a battle with colon cancer. Fualaau was reportedly at her side when she passed away.
|Timeline of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau’s Relationship|
|1996|Letourneau begins sexually abusing 12-year-old Fualaau|
|1997|Their relationship is discovered when Letourneau gets pregnant|
|1998|Letourneau gives birth to first daughter with Fualaau while in prison |
|2004|Letourneau marries Fualaau shortly after prison release|
|2017|Fualaau files for legal separation|
|2019|Letourneau and Fualaau’s divorce finalized|
|2020|Letourneau dies at age 58 from cancer|
Resurfaced Interview Comparisons to Emotional May December Scene
The controversial new movie “May December” contains a climactic scene between the student and teacher characters that bears a striking resemblance to real archival interview footage featuring Letourneau and Fualaau.
In 2018, Letourneau and Fualaau sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC’s 20/20. In the interview, a visibly uncomfortable Letourneau struggles to answer questions about the details and origin of their illegal relationship. Fualaau is shown getting increasingly frustrated with her avoidance before an explosive argument erupts between them.
The tense 20/20 scene went viral after “May December’s” release, as many viewers noted the similarities to an intense argument shown in the film. Both feature the student character angrily confronting his teacher about why and how their relationship started.
side-by-side comparison table here
While the film presents a fictionalized account, the newly resurfaced Letourneau/Fualaau interview demonstrates the very real turmoil, questions, and pain still plaguing those involved two decades later.
World Reacts to Taboo Relationship Being Thrust Back into Spotlight
The world is reacting with a mixture of renewed fascination, horror, and debate after Letourneau and Fualaau’s taboo relationship has been brought back into focus thanks to “May December.”
Many find themselves reexamining the complex moral and ethical questions surrounding the case after largely forgetting about it in recent years. Some defend Letourneau’s actions as ultimately benign since she went on to marry Fualaau. Others harshly condemn what they see as a clear-cut case of child rape and abuse of power by a teacher.
Here is a sampling of reactions from around the internet:
- “I’ll never understand how anyone can defend this relationship. He was 12! She was an authority figure who took advantage and abused her power. It’s appalling.”
- “They were married for over 20 years and had children together though. Who are we to judge if it ended up working out for them?”
- “It baffles me this woman became a figure of public fascination/obsession instead of universal condemnation. Shows how much we have to go in protecting minors.”
- “It makes me sick to my stomach knowing students are being abused by teachers today too and it isn’t being taken seriously enough.”
- “This movie is going to spark some fiery debates about consent, power dynamics, rehabilitation vs. retribution when it comes to crime & punishment.”
- “Crazy how she basically got off with a slap on the wrist. Like the rape & pregnancy wasn’t enough for people to realize how wrong the relationship was?”
- “Goes to show adults can easily manipulate kids/teens. The law says minor = unable to consent for a reason. Just because he grew up and stayed with her doesn’t mean she didn’t take advantage of a CHILD.”
Opinions remain sharply divided on whether Letourneau deserved sympathy and a second chance or harsher punishment for child rape. Many also question Fualaau’s agency and ability to consent back then or even today. The messy complexities and ethical questions raised continue stirring heated debate.
Final Thoughts on Letourneau and Fualaau’s Legacy
While behind bars for raping her young student, Mary Kay Letourneau scandously became a tabloid pseudo-celebrity of sorts, even landing a spread in People Magazine. America has long been simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by the idea of female teacher/male student abuse.
Yet that imbalance suggests an underlying hypocrisy. Abuse more often flows in the opposite direction, with older male authority figures preying on girls. But those perpetrators rarely see their faces plastered across magazines.
Ultimately Letourneau remains a controversial figure even in death. Whether the result of mental illness, desperation to relive her dwindling youth, or simply selfish malice, her actions left deep scars for many lives, including her own children’s. Fualaau himself still seems conflicted on their past, veering between justification and anger.
Their story will likely continue sparking tabloid headlines and movie / TV adaptations for years to come. But we would do well to shift the conversation to better preventing such abuse and caring for all victims in a more thoughtful, nuanced way.
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