May December – the acclaimed new film from Todd Haynes – has its roots in a very shocking event: an adult woman called Gracie (Julianne Moore) seducing and beginning an affair with a 13-year-old boy, Joe.


The film picks up 20 years later, when the pair are now seemingly happily married with children, and follows events when actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) arrives to spend time with them while preparing to play Gracie in a TV movie about the scandal.

As she begins to ask probing questions to both Gracie and Joe (Charles Melton), the latter begins to reckon with the darkness of his past for the first time, as he realises that he was exploited and the fairytale version of the romance that Gracie has been pedalling is a wicked distortion of the truth.

Although the film is a fictional story penned by screenwriter Samy Burch, it is loosely based on a real story – read on for everything you need to know.

May December true story: Who is Gracie based on?

The fictional character of Gracie Atherton-Yoo is loosely based on a real woman named Mary Kay Letourneau, who was at the centre of what became a major tabloid scandal in 1997, when she pleaded guilty to two counts of felony second-degree rape of a child.

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Letourneau was a teacher who began a sexual relationship with one of her 12-year-old pupils, Vili Fualaau, when she was 34, and was subsequently sentenced to a six-month prison stint – after reaching a plea deal to reduce the originally planned seven-and-a-half-year sentence.

That deal had been reached on the basis that she would cease all contact with Fualaau, but shortly after her original release she was found in a car with him, which led to the plea being rescinded, and she ultimately spent six years in prison between 1998 and 2004.

As is the case between Gracie and Joe in the film, Letourneau ended up marrying Fualaau after her release, and she had two children with him, the first of whom she gave birth to while originally awaiting sentencing and the second while she was in prison for her second, longer sentence.

Letourneau and Fualaau separated in 2019, with an unnamed source later telling People magazine that the latter "sees things clearly now, and he realises that this wasn't a healthy relationship from the start".

Letourneau died at the age of 58 in 2020, after suffering from colorectal cancer, and reportedly left much of her estate to Fualaau.

Speaking at a press conference about using the true story as the basis for her script, May December screenwriter Samy Burch explained: "I really wanted a fictional story that dealt with this tabloid culture of the '90s that has kind of seemingly led into this true crime biopic world we're in now, and kind of question that transition and why we want to keep recreating these stories."

Meanwhile, Todd Haynes told The Daily Beast: "I really started by pushing that to the side and just being like, 'OK, let’s bear down on the specific choices and the distinctions that Samy Burch’s script makes from the Mary Kay Letourneau story.' But there was no way ultimately to not [be influenced by it]."

May December is now available to stream on Sky Cinema and NOW. Check out more of our Film and Drama coverage, or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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