May December slammed as ‘ripoff’ by man whose story inspired the movie

Julianne Moore and Charles Melton in May December.

Mary Kay Letourneau’s ex-husband and grooming victim Vili Fualaau has said the May December team should have “worked together” with him to create a “masterpiece”.

Its makers have insisted their production is “a fictional story” and only “loosely” based on Fualaau’s experiences.

The movie – directed by Todd Haynes – follows the fallout of the notorious tabloid scandal where pet shop manager Gracie (played by Julianne Moore in the movie) was caught grooming 13-year-old Joe (Charles Melton), a crime for which she eventually served a custodial sentence. Twenty years later the pair have set up an idyllic suburban life with their children in the film.

In movie adaptation of their story, May December, everything starts to fall apart with the arrival of film actress Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) who plans to bring their story to life on the big screen.

The Golden Globe nominated film is loosely inspired by a true story from the late 1990s where late school teacher Letourneau raped sixth-grade student Vili Fualaau. Much like Gracie, Letourneau served a prison sentence and had two children with Fualaau. While both Joe and Fulaau come from Asian/Pacific Islander backgrounds.

The couple divorced after several years and sex offender Letourneau died of cancer in 2020. Now, in a damning interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Fulaau has slammed the production team for not approaching him to consult on the film.

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“I’m still alive and well. 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,” he told the publication.

May December production team. Sophie Mas (L), Samy Burch, Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon (R
May December production team. Sophie Mas (L), Samy Burch, Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon (R). (Get

Although May December was inspired by the true grooming case, writer Samy Burch has previously argued the film was “definitely a fictional story”.

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During the premiere of May December at the London Film Festival in October, Burch spoke to PinkNews about “getting distance” from “past stories” in her retelling.

“This is definitely a fictional story,” she said. “I wanted to set it decades later, where there’s enough room for investigation to see the passage from what in the 90s was a very intense tabloid culture to where we are now with an obsessive with true crime.

“In recreating these past stories, I think I always wanted to get that distance. It’s very interesting to me why we continue to retell the same stories and what they mean about our culture then and now, and how that’s changed.”

Producer Christine Vachon also reflected on Burch’s approach to bringing this real story to life for Netflix.

“It’s one of those stories where, if you’ve heard anything about the story [that] it was very loosely based on, you think you know [it],” she said.

“But as with most things you don’t really know what motivated everybody at its core. Samy’s whole perspective of saying, ‘well, what happens later, what happens when no one’s interested anymore and they’re just living their lives’, is really fascinating.”

Vachon went onto say that the film highlighted that there is still “a bias” towards not taking men, who are victims of sexual assault, seriously.

She explained: “There’s still a bias in some ways when it’s a woman in Charles Melton’s position and not a man. There’s still a little ‘lucky boy’, instead of ‘he was a child too’.”

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However, following Fualaau’s comments, many on social media have levelled criticism against the May December team.

“Vili was exploited and taken advantage of as a child, and now the same filmmaker who’s being praised for making a film about how the media and society sensationalised his trauma, did the very same thing to him,” one person wrote.

“This is exploitation at it’s best! You’d think the makers of this film would think to reach out to the victim, Vili Fualaau, in telling his story, as if he hasn’t been through enough!” another claimed.

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