Mary Kay Letourneau, the former teacher who made national headlines in 1997 for having a sexual relationship with her 12-year-old student Vili Fualaau, has come under the spotlight again due to a new Netflix movie called “May December” which seems to be inspired by her story. Her ex-husband Vili Fualaau has now spoken out against the movie, calling it a “rip-off” of their lives.
Fualaau says movie ignores the trauma he experienced
According to an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Fualaau slammed the new Netflix movie starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore. He feels it makes light of the trauma he experienced as a child victim of rape from his 34-year-old teacher.
“It’s a rip-off of my original story that’s going to exploit survivors everywhere,” he said. “They’re tone-deaf if they think this ending is something survivors want to see.”
Fualaau had hoped to be consulted about the movie but was never contacted by the filmmakers. He now plans to reveal his side of the story someday with his own project.
The movie seems to portray the relationship between the student and teacher (renamed Sue Ann and Joe in the film) as a tender May-December romance with a happy ending. But Fualaau maintains that the real-life events, including Letourneau giving birth to his children while imprisoned, left deep emotional scars.
Vili Fualaau and Mary Kay Letourneau with their daughters (Via Business Insider)
Filmmakers claim movie is “not based on real people”
The filmmakers behind “May December” have responded to the criticism by asserting that despite some clear parallels, the movie is a work of fiction not specifically based on Letourneau and Fualaau’s story.
Director Todd Haynes told The Hollywood Reporter:
“While the film itself is entirely fictional, the emotional story it seeks to tell about love and human connection at all stages of life was our guiding light.”
However, lead actress Natalie Portman had previously said in an interview that she drew inspiration from “reading a ton about Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau” to prepare for her role.
So while the movie does not use real names or claim to represent true events, it seems clear that the filmmakers were using the headlines from the 1990s as a jumping-off point.
Timeline of the Letourneau-Fualaau relationship
To understand why Fualaau feels so deeply disturbed by the movie plot of “May December”, it is important to revisit the timeline of how his real relationship with Letourneau unfolded:
|Letourneau begins sexually abusing Fualaau when he is her 12-year-old student
|The abuse is exposed and Letourneau pleads guilty to child rape, serving 7 years in prison
|While imprisoned, Letourneau gives birth to Fualaau’s first daughter
|Fualaau files a lawsuit against the school district over their failure to protect him
|Shortly after Letourneau’s release from prison, the pair marry
|Letourneau is convicted again for violating parole, returns to prison for 7 more years
|Fualaau files for legal separation from Letourneau
|Letourneau dies of cancer at age 58
So while Fualaau did marry Letourneau as an adult and raise two daughters with her, their relationship began with traumatic sexual abuse that forever changed the course of his life.
What supporters say about “May December”
Not everyone sees “May December” as being insensitive to victims. Some reviews have praised the movie as a thought-provoking exploration of complex themes.
Critics note that while Fualaau’s perspective is valid, the story does not claim to represent his specific experience. And movies often take inspiration from real events as a creative jumping-off point.
As Indiewire’s review put it:
“By engaging with the messiness inherent to any attempt to draw distinct lines between right and wrong, Haynes trusts viewers to think critically about difficult questions without spoon-feeding definitive answers.”
The debate around “May December” brings up larger questions around artistic license versus exploitation that are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
But Fualaau’s painful rebuke serves as a reminder that even fiction can reopen real wounds when it mirrors traumatic personal history. His voice deserves to be heard by those considering watching this controversial drama.
What is clear is that if any further on-screen depictions of student-teacher statutory rape occur, the victims deserve a chance to consult on sensitive portrayals instead of being blindsided by triggering content. Survivors should be empowered to tell their own stories rather than have them co-opted without consent.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.