Todd Haynes defends May December as ‘its own fiction’

Vili Fualaau, whose story serves as a loose inspiration for the drama, has criticised the film

May December (Sky)
May December stars Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman and is loosely inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneay scandal. (Sky)

May December has been criticised by Vili Fualaau, whose story serves as inspiration for the drama, but the film is "its own fiction" director Todd Haynes told Yahoo UK before its release.

The movie is loosely based on the scandal involving Mary Kay Letourneau, who began a sexual relationship with her then student Fualaau when he was 12, giving birth to two of his children in prison and later marrying him after being released. Letourneau died in July 2020 following a battle with cancer, a year after she and Fualaau had separated.

Read more: May December director Todd Haynes says Hollywood's approach to true crime is 'exploitative'

This relationship serves as inspiration for Haynes' film which stars Julianne Moore as Gracie, a woman who welcomes actor Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) into her home in order to better understand her ahead of playing her in a film. The actor learns more about her relationship with Joe (Charles Melton), who Gracie met when he was 13 and —similar to the case the movie is inspired by— whom she married after going to prison and giving birth behind bars.

SEATAC, WA - APRIL 3:   ***EXCLUSIVE, SPECIAL PRICES APPLY ***  Vili Fualaau  appears in court in SeaTac, Washington April 3, 2006 for a hearing to determine if he is to stand trial on a drunken driving charge. The judge set a trial date for April 26 for Fualaa,  the husband of Mary Kay Letourneau, his former sixth grade teacher who was convicted of child rape for having sex with Fualaau.  (Photo by Ron Wurzer/Getty Images)
Several aspects of the story have been changed from its real-life counterpart, but Fualaau (pictured in 2006) has since shared his anger at not being contacted about the film. (Getty Images)

Several aspects of the story have been changed from its real-life counterpart, but Fualaau has since shared his anger at not being contacted about the film. He told The Hollywood Reporter he is "offended by the entire project", saying that it shows a "lack of respect given to" him and added: "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."

The director defended the story written by Samy Burch when speaking with Yahoo UK ahead of its release in November 2023, calling the movie “its own fiction” regardless of the case it is loosely inspired by.

“The film is fiction,” Haynes explains. “The film has very specific distinctions from that particular story… it was something I was aware of at the time, I wasn't particularly tracking it, some of my friends were much more attentive to it.

“And when I began with this project, I was really like, 'no, no, no Samy made these distinctions between it' and I really wanted to consider it as its own fiction that we were creating."

May December (Sky)
Todd Haynes defended May December with Yahoo UK before its release, saying it "has very specific distinctions from that particular story". (Sky)

He went on: “But there were parts of the research process, and particularly conversations I would have with Julianne Moore, where looking at that story and really analysing the documentaries and the interviews and the details of it helped us understand how it happened.

"How to make sense of it, how she could portray it. But we still felt like we were doing something that had its own fictional parameters around it.”

May December has garnered much critical acclaim since its release, particularly for Melton, who portrays Joe in the drama and is now a frontrunner for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

May December is available to watch on Sky Cinema and NOW.

Watch Todd Haynes discuss May December: