The disturbing true story behind ‘May December’
(Credit: Netflix)

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The disturbing true story behind 'May December'

Todd Haynes’ May December, starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton, has caused quite a stir for its disturbing portrayal of a true story.

Based on a screenplay by Samy Burch, May December stars Portman as Elizabeth Berry, an actor studying the controversial life of Moore’s character, Gracie Atherton-Yoo, a woman who married the boy she met when he was 13. Melton portrays Gracie’s partner and victim, Joe Yoo.

When films are based on actual events, it’s easy to detach oneself from the fact that the narrative unfolding on screen once happened to real individuals. This detachment becomes particularly challenging with May December, which explores the twisted dynamics between Grace and Joe.

After a theatrical release on November 17th, 2023, the film arrived on Netflix on December 1st. The recent release of May December on streaming has prompted fans to revisit the real-life story of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, which inspired the film, and it has left them utterly horrified. One interview, in particular, has left people disturbed, where Letourneau keeps asking Fualaau, “Who was the boss?” when questioned about pursuing a minor.

In the clip, the interviewer confronts Letourneau about her manipulating and raping Fualaau. Despite the accusations, Letourneau deflects by repeatedly questioning Fualaau about who held the dominant role in their “relationship”, insinuating that he was the “pursuer” despite being a child and her sixth-grade student. Letourneau also had Fualaau in her class in second grade.

Who was Mary Letourneau, and what happened to her?

Mary Katherine Letourneau was an American teacher who gained national attention due to her involvement in a highly publicised legal case. 

Born on January 30th, 1962, in Tustin, California, Letourneau worked as a teacher at Shorewood Elementary School in Burien, Washington. In 1997, it was revealed that she had sexually coerced one of her students, Vili Fualaau. At the time, Fualaau was just 12 years old, and Letourneau was 34. Letourneau became pregnant by Fualaau twice before he even turned 15. Letourneau was eventually arrested in March 1997. Letourneau gave birth to their first child, a daughter, in May 1997 while awaiting sentencing. 

In a highly publicised trial, Letourneau pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree child rape. She was initially sentenced to six months in jail with three months suspended and required to undergo sex offender treatment. However, shortly after her release, she violated the terms of her parole by continuing her pursuit of Fualaau. As a result, she was re-sentenced to serve the remainder of her original sentence, a total of seven years. She had their second child, also a daughter, in October of 1998 while serving her second sentence in prison.

Despite the legal consequences, their relationship continued, and in 2004, after Letourneau’s release from prison, she and Fualaau got married. They remained married until 2019, when Fualaau filed for separation. The couple officially divorced in August 2019. According to People Mag, an unnamed source close to Fualaau said that “he sees things clearly now, and he realises that this wasn’t a healthy relationship, from the start.”

Mary Letourneau died on July 6th, 2020, at the age of 58. The cause of death was reportedly complications from cancer.