Is ‘May December’ Based on a True Story?


Is ‘May December’ Based on a True Story?

Mai K. Sosa

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“May December” the latest film from director Todd Haynes, began streaming on Netflix on December 1st. Natalie Portman plays TV star Elizabeth, who moves in with an elderly woman, Gracie (Julianne Moore), who has a controversial background. Why? She’s been cast as Gracie in a terrifying “based on a true story” film.

Joe Yoo (played by Charles Melton) is at the center of Gracie’s scandal. He was only 13 years old when Gracie became pregnant with his child at the age of 36. Gracie and Joe are still parenting their children together after more than 20 years.

Joe is now 36, and Gracie, being in her late fifties, still believes she did nothing wrong. However, when Elizabeth appears and brings up the past, their relationship begins to disintegrate.

May December is meta in the sense that it is a film about producing a film based on a true story… Is May-December, however, based on a true story? Continue reading to find out.

Is ‘May December’ Based on a True Story?

The plot of May-December is not based on a true story. Screenwriter Samy Burch created it as an original work of fiction, which means it is all made up. Having said that, it was most likely inspired by a real-life news controversy.

In an interview for the May December press notes, Burch stated that the notion of Joe as a character inspired her first—though she did not indicate he was influenced by anyone she knew or heard about in real life.

“The seed of it for me was always the character of Joe, this idea of being a 36-year-old man who was about to be an empty-nester, who hadn’t processed what happened to him when he was young or the media blitz that followed,” Burch told me.

“That was the first thing that excited me about it, and then also the chance to look more closely at 1990s tabloid culture and how it has pretty seamlessly transitioned into this true-crime frenzy that we’re living in.”

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Burch went on to say that her husband, Alex Mechanik, who has a “story by” credit on the film, was involved in fleshing out the story, saying, “It started as an idea between me and my now-husband thinking of ways into this world, entry points—and it ended up being an actress doing research for a role, decades after the fact.”

Is May December Based on Mary Kay Letourneau?

Several real-life news articles parallel Joe’s story. According to a recent Variety review, May December was largely inspired by Seattle lady Mary Kay Letourneau, a sex offender who pled guilty in 1997 to sexually abusing Vili Fualaau, a 12-year-old child, when she was 34.

Vili Fualaau was Letourneau’s second-grade student. After being convicted of child rape, Letourneau gave birth to Fualaau’s baby in prison. After being freed from prison in 2005, she married the adolescent.

They were the focus of tabloid attention. The couple remained together until their divorce in 2019. Letourneau died of cancer at the age of 58 in 2020.

Is ‘May December’ Based on a True Story?

There was also a 2022 news report about Andrea Neenet Serrano, a real-life 31-year-old Colorado woman who was arrested in July 2022. Her narrative is eerily similar to that of May December when Serrano acknowledged having sex with a 13-year-old after she became pregnant with his child.

Despite the coincidence of this news report, Burch stated that she created the first draft of her script in 2019. Portman and Moore were cast in 2021, and May-December production began in November 2022. So it appears doubtful that Serrano inspired Burch’s script.

Unfortunately, it is not as uncommon as one might wish. Alexandria Vera, a 24-year-old Texas teacher, was arrested in 2017 for having sex with a 13-year-old middle school pupil who impregnated her.

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Vera stated at the time, as Moore’s character does in the film, that she and the victim “loved each other” and had sex practically every day for nine months.

All of this is to say that, while May December is not based on a true story and none of the filmmakers have mentioned these true-life stories, it’s not a stretch to think that Burch was inspired by one of these terrible news stories and then created her cast of characters from there.

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