Inside the extremely uncomfortable true story May December is based on
Mary Kay Letourneau groomed Vili Fualaau when he was 12 – the two then had children and married
Todd Haynes’ latest film May December has been released to critical acclaim – it’s radiating Oscar buzz. Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman star as Gracie Atherton-Yoo and Elizabeth Berry, with the latter coming to visit Gracie to study her as she’s set to play her in an upcoming film centred around her life. Gracie Atherton started a sexual relationship with Joe Yoo when he was 13 years old. When she was arrested for her crimes, she gave birth to his child in prison. 23 years later, when the film is set, the two are married with three children and most of Savannah, Georgia where they live behave like no child abuse ever occurred. The deeply uncomfortable story is actually based on a real life crime – here’s the true story that inspired May December.
The characters of Gracie Atherton-Yoo and Joe Yoo are based on Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau. Letourneau was the teacher of Fualaau in both second and sixth grade. In 1996, when she was 34 and he was 12, their relationship became sexual. Letourneau was arrested in May 1997, pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree child rape. She then gave birth to Fualaau’s child whilst she was awaiting sentencing. She ended up with a six month prison sentence and somehow didn’t even have to register as a sex offender. She also could not have any contact with Fualaau or any other minors.
In February 1998, two weeks after completing her prison sentence, Mary Kay Letourneau was found in a car with Vili Fualaau. She was arrested and went back to prison for seven years, giving birth to her and Vili’s second child when inside. They co-authord two books: Only One Crime, Love and If Loving You Is Wrong. Whilst Mary Kay was in prison, Vili dropped out of high school, struggled with depression and attempted to take his own life in 1999.
Mary Kay Letourneau was released from prison in 2004, and Vili – now 21 – persuaded the court to reverse the no contact order. The two then married in May 2005. They stayed married for 12 years. A close source to the pair told People magazine “They know what everyone thinks about their relationship, and they don’t care. They really never have. The wrong stuff that happened was so long ago. They are two grown adults who are living their lives now.” Mary Kay Letourneau also said in an interview “If someone had told me, if anyone had told me, there is a specific law that says this is a crime, I did not know. I’ve said this, over and over again. Had I’d known, if anyone knows my personality. Just the idea, this would count as a crime.” Interesting, though – considering how much sneaking and lying she did when caught with Fualaau in the car.
Obviously, beyond some minor changes, all of this tracks entirely as the true story forming the basis of May December. In 2017, Fualaau filed for divorce but then retracted it. The two did finalise a separation in 2019. A source told People in May 2020 that Fualaau “sees things clearly now, and he realizes that this wasn’t a healthy relationship, from the start.”
Mary Kay Letourneau passed away in 2020 of cancer. Fualaau and her family were around her when she died.
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