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May December might have offended Vili Fualaau but that doesn't mean it shouldn't exist

Sorry, May December isn’t cancellable for not consulting the real life people in the story

They don’t need to like May December though!


May December is one of the most discourse-fuelling films for ages, and there are so many reasons as to why, aside from it being based on the true story of Mary Kay Letourneau grooming Vili Fualaau.

First up, there are the stellar performances in the Netflix Original: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Riverdale alum Charles Melton. The first two are known Hollywood heavyweights, while Charles came fresh from CW, meaning he’s known both the highs and lows of high school football and Oscar buzz. 

Another element that gets people taking is the fresh original screenplay from Samy Bruch and direction from Todd Haynes, a welcome relief from SAG-AFTRA strike crickets and about a million IP rehashes. Martin Scorsese, you can come for Marvel’s monopoly on the film industry any day of the week, and I’ll stan you harder! What a treat to have something new to sink your teeth into!  

However, maybe the biggest elephant in the room vis a vis all this chatter was the true crime aspect of May December. 

For it is loosely based on the tabloid tale of convicted sex offender Mary Kay Lot, an American teacher who groomed her student Vili Fualaau when he was 12 years old in 1996. After being released from prison in 2004, where she was sent to on child sexual assault charges in 1998, the couple later married and welcomed two kids together. 

Todd has always been opaque about this, saying at its premiere late last year: “There were times when it became very, very helpful to get very specific about the research, and we learned things from that relationship.”

https://twitter.com/judysquirrels/status/1743087949040779725

Following critical acclaim and ample Oscar buzz, Vili has recently taken aim at the film’s “lack of respect” for him and his trauma at the hands of Mary Kay, who died in 2020 after being diagnosed with cancer. 

Vili told The Hollywood Reporter: “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. 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.”

Vili told The Hollywood Reporter: “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. 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.”

It is not like, say for example, Sofia Coppola’s latest offering, Priscilla, which sees Cailee Spaeney as Elvis Presley’s ex-wife, did see input from the real-life titular character. The film, an adaption of the 1978-year-old’s 1985 memoir ‘Elvis and Me’, both relied on the intimate knowledge only Priscilla could provide on what it was like to live in the hallowed halls of Graceland, the pillow talk they shared, give Jacob Elordi tips on the mammoth task of bringing someone as iconic as the King to life. Along with the benefits of her producer credit, Priscilla,  a dreamy exploration of the prisons of fame, girlhood and mid-century morals, probably suffered because of it. Sofia, who is no stranger to these sorts of themes in her work, was probably constrained at points because of subject being in the room. 

This push and pull, the freedom of the artist and the need to stick to someone’s narrative, is not the case for May December. Julianne Moore’s Gracie is not Mary Kay, Charles Melton’s Joe is not Vili, and Natalie Portman’s character Elizabeth Berry isn’t Natalie Portman because it’s made up! It is taking whisps of inspiration and running with it, as it a lot, if not all of other stories, and I don’t mean to misuse the Joan Didion quote potentially but “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” hasn’t become the defacto go-to for writers since it dropped for nothing! 

 Again I know there can be two truths at once, that this is a product of the human imagination and that the attention it has caught must be incredibly difficult for Vili or anyone in a similar situation. 

The film reviewer Robert Daniels noted on X: “I don’t see MAY DECEMBER as any different from the myriad of films, books, and songs by writers who took inspiration from a newspaper article. There is a difference between modeling and straight up adaptation. The former happened. The latter did not.

“Which doesn’t invalidate Vili’s feelings. But the movie isn’t unethical,” he continued.  “It’s only been a recent impulse that any film tangentially inspired by any events must therefore be an opportunity for a collaboration, which ultimately curves the work wholly to the desires of the subject.”

Current events and the news have always provided not only Hollywood with miles of material to work with, and I could bore you with listing them, but instead, I’ll add a quote from the film’s producer, Will Ferrell (yes, that one). 

He told the Hollywood Reporter: “It’s about the way that we look at ourselves as stories are told, and we navigate and question our expectations and moral positions that we bring to the stories we watch.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Inside the extremely uncomfortable true story May December is based on

From Love Is Blind to Squid Game: All the times show participants tried to sue Netflix 

This Saltburn fan theory makes Oliver even more calculated than we first thought