/Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore React To Vili Fualaaus May December Criticism

Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore React To Vili Fualaaus May December Criticism

Actors Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore are speaking out in defense of “May December” after the film was criticized by Vili Fualaau, the loose inspiration for one of its characters.

On the red carpet at Sunday’s Golden Globes, Portman told Entertainment Tonight that, despite Fualaau and ex-wife Mary Kay Letourneau’s contentious relationship influencing “May December,” the film is “its own story.”

“It’s not based on them, it’s, you know, obviously their story influenced the culture that we all grew up in and influenced the idea,” Portman said. “But it’s fictional characters that are really brought to life by Julianne Moore and Charles Melton so beautifully, and yeah, it’s its own story, it’s not meant to be a biopic.”

Moore, who also spoke with ET, offered a similar response.

“[Director Todd Haynes] was always very clear when we were working on this movie that this was an original story, this was a story about these characters,” she said. “So that’s how we looked at it, too. This was our document, we created these characters from the page and together.”

Moore, Portman and Charles Melton — whose character is loosely based on Fualaau — received Golden Globe nominations for their performances in “May December.” The film hit Netflix last month after a theatrical release in November.

From left: "May December" actors Portman, Melton and Moore.
From left: “May December” actors Portman, Melton and Moore.

Dave Benett via Getty Images

“May December” is a heavily fictionalized take on the controversy surrounding Fualaau’s marriage to Letourneau, his former sixth grade teacher and a convicted sex offender. He was 12 when she began a sexual relationship with him. In 1997, Letourneau pleaded guilty to the second-degree child rape of Fualaau and served a seven-year stint in prison. In 2017, they divorced; in 2020, Letourneau died of cancer at the age of 58.

Much of “May December” focuses on Hollywood actor Elizabeth Berry (Portman), a completely fictional character. Over the course of the film, Elizabeth travels to the Georgia home of Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Moore), who is living in relative seclusion with her much younger husband, Joe Yoo (Melton), and their children after her release from jail.

Unlike Letourneau, Gracie is a former pet shop owner who is said to have begun a sexual relationship with Joe when he was 13. After Gracie serves out her prison sentence, Joe marries his abuser.

In a Hollywood Reporter interview last week, Fualaau, 40, confirmed he’d seen “May December” and criticized Haynes, Melton and screenwriter Samy Burch for not consulting him before production on the film began.

Fualaau is pictured here in 2006 during his marriage to convicted sex offender Mary Kay Letourneau.
Fualaau is pictured here in 2006 during his marriage to convicted sex offender Mary Kay Letourneau.

Ron Wurzer via Getty Images

“If they had reached out to me, we could have worked together on a masterpiece,” he said. “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.”

Fualaau’s distaste for “May December” seems unlikely to impact the trajectory of the film, which is expected to be a frontrunner for the Oscars in March. Nonetheless, his comments are indicative of a wider discourse on how much responsibility filmmakers have to the living subjects of movies that are based on real-life events.

“Writers and artists use familiar figures as cultural touchstones to tell all sorts of stories, many of which have little to do with the actual people or events that inspired them, and audiences are expected, reasonably, to understand this,” the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara wrote in regard to “May December.”

“Some of these stories will be good, some bad, a few great … But sometimes, it is worth remembering that at the center of those touchstones are real people who, often through no intention of their own, watched helplessly as their stories became public domain. This is one of those times.”

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