The story that horrified the world is the inspiration for movie May December.

This story includes descriptions of child sexual abuse.

The plot of Netflix's May December follows characters Gracie Atherton-Yu (Julianne Moore) and Joe Yu (Charles Melton) who are happily married with children. Their existence is peaceful, except for the fact they met when Joe was 13 years old and a schoolmate of her young son.

Almost 20 years after the fictionalised scandal, a famous actress named Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) is hired to tell their story on screen, taking on the lead role of portraying Gracie.

Directed by Todd Haynes, the movie is inspired by the true story of Vili Fualaau and Mary Kay Lauternau Fualaau, a sexual predator who was convicted of second-degree child rape.

In 1996, Mary Kay Letourneau was living a life that looked relatively normal. At the time, the 34-year-old middle school teacher was living in Washington with her husband Steve Letourneau and their four children, Jacqueline, Mary Claire, Nicholas and Steven Jr.

She'd fallen pregnant with their first child when they were both in high school. They didn't love each other, but abortion was not an option in her ultra-conservative family. 

He was also unfaithful. Letourneau knew it. But whatever problems she had in her marriage didn't spill out into her career. Working as an elementary school teacher, she was reportedly "highly valued" by her colleagues and beloved by her students. 

Letourneau had her favourites, among them was 12-year-old Fualaau. They were so close that he often went back to her home to hang out with her kids. 


After one particularly intense argument with her husband in front of her kids and Fualaau, she was comforted by him. That was when their relationship turned sexual according to the book If Loving You Is Wrong by Gregg Olsen.

Olsen alleged that they'd both wanted to have sex. For Letourneau, it was a moment she'd been hoping for but for Fualaau, he was winning a bet with his cousin worth $20 that he could get the teacher into bed. 

Nevertheless, the abuse began and continued. 

But when Letourneau's husband found letters she had written to her 12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau, Letourneau soon gained infamy.

Letourneau first met the boy when he was in second grade at Shorewood Elementary School in the Seattle suburb of Burien. 

Four years later, when Fualaau was just 12 or 13 years old, she began to rape him. The sixth-grade student was just one and a half years older than her eldest son.

"The incident was a late night that didn’t stop with a kiss," Letourneau told ABC of the first assault. "And I thought that it would and it didn’t."

The abuse continued in secret for months, before the teacher was arrested in March 1997, after her husband found letters about the crime. 

By then, Letourneau was already pregnant with Fualaau's child. He was just 13.

Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau's daughters opened up on Sunday Night in 2018. Post continues below.


Video via Channel Seven.

As the headlines circulated around the world, Letourneau gave birth on May 29, 1997, and three months later plead guilty to two counts of second-degree child rape.

Letourneau was handed a suspended sentence of 89 months in November 1997. She served six months in county jail before being released on parole under the condition she attended counselling and didn't contact Fualaau.

But within a matter of weeks of her release, she was found assaulting him in her car.

The parole violation saw her return to prison for the full seven-and-a-half-year sentence, where she gave birth to their second daughter behind bars on October 16, 1998. Both girls were placed into the custody of Fualaau's mother.

By the time she was released from prison in 2004, her husband had divorced her and got full custody of their four children. Fualaau, her former student and victim, was now 21 years old.

Following her release, Fualaau persuaded the court to reverse the no-contact order. 

On May 20, 2005, less than a year after the former teacher's release, the pair married in Woodinville, Washington.

In an interview with Sunday Night in 2018, the Fualaau family — including daughters Audrey and Georgia — opened up about their experience.


In the interview, Letourneau claimed that she didn't know what she'd done to Fualaau, then 12 years old, was illegal.

"If someone had told me, if anyone had told me there is a specific law that says this is a crime," she said. "…If you had someone on here that knew Mary back then, 'Did Mary know? Would Mary have known?'"

Mary Kay Letourneau during the court hearing in 1998. Image: AAP. 


Letourneau's lawyer, David Gehrke, also told Sunday Night he had to explain to her multiple times that she had committed a crime.

Speaking to the former Channel Seven program, Gehrke said Letourneau told him: "But we’re in love, I didn’t make him do anything, if anything he was wanting it, he was pushing for it. We’re in love, how could it be a crime?"

The couple's daughters also shared that they have never questioned their unusual family dynamic.

"It doesn’t feel any different just because it’s not really brought to our attention," Audrey said. "Or just because we grew up with it, so we’re adapted to it."

On May 9, 2017, after almost 12 years of marriage, Fualaau filed for separation but later withdrew the filing as they attempted to repair their relationship.

In 2018, a source told PEOPLE"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."

After attempting to reconcile their relationship, the couple divorced in August 2019.

In 2020, Letourneau was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. According to her lawyer, Fualaau spent the last two months by his ex-wife's side.

"Vili moved back from California, gave up his life there, and for the last two months of Mary’s life he stood by her 24/7 taking care of her," Gehrke said.


"So yes, they were divorced and they had their spats, but they were always in love with each other."

She died in July of that same year.

"Mary, and all of us, found great strength in having our immediate and extended family members together to join her in this arduous struggle. We did our very best to care for Mary and one another as we kept her close and stayed close together," the statement from the Fualaau and Letourneau families read.

"We are endlessly grateful for the care and kindness received from the amazing professionals involved in Mary's care. Likewise, the kindness and compassion of friends and others who learned of her condition along the way proved an uplifting gift to us all.

"It is in that spirit that we ask for privacy and respect for our desire to focus on the road ahead for all of us who make up Mary's collective family. We ask that our boundaries and need for privacy be honoured with continued kindness and understanding."

In September 2023, one of Letourneau and Fualaau's daughters, Georgia, announced she was pregnant. She confirmed she’s expecting a baby boy in an interview with PEOPLE.

“I’m very excited to become a mother. I have an amazing mother to prepare me for these years to come,” she said.

Speaking about Letourneau, Georgia said her late mother would "be really happy," about her pregnancy. "I think maybe at first it would be kind of shocking, because I am her baby, but after that, she’d be the most excited grandmother-to-be,” she said.


"My mum she was a very strict mother — but she also loved each and every one of her kids in their own way… I feel like everything she’s taught us, just led to us being able to be amazing parents in the future.”

Fualaau had two daughters with Letourneau, and in 2022 he welcomed a third daughter named Sophia.

As for his thoughts on May December, Fualaau has made it clear he's not for it. The now 40-year-old said he was never consulted by the movie's director, the screenwriter or any of the actors. 

"I'm still alive and well, he said to The Hollywood Reporter. "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.

"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."

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

This article was originally published in June 2020 and has since been updated with new information.

Feature Image: Getty/Netflix.

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