Netflix’s Might December Depicts Actual Asian Male Stereotypes


May December, L to R: Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo with Charles Melton as Joe. Cr. Courtesy of NetflixMay December, L to R: Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo with Charles Melton as Joe. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

The Netflix film “Might December” is closely impressed by the real-life relationship between Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, which might be why its depiction of Asian male stereotypes feels so near actuality, too. The morally problematic story takes viewers on a fancy journey with troubling racial implications, notably as they relate to weaponized whiteness and the depiction of Asian masculinity as subservient and childlike.

This extremely publicized case, in addition to its fictionalized model depicted in “Might December,” raises a central query: How did the truth that she’s a white lady affect not solely her skill to groom him — an Asian American boy — but in addition the general public’s response to the story?

“This feeds into the dangerous stereotype that Asian males are complacent and obedient.”

In “Might December,” Julianne Moore performs Gracie, the fictionalized model of Letourneau, who started sexually abusing Fualauu when he was her sixth-grade pupil. In 1997, Letourneau pled responsible to 2 counts of secondary rape however stayed with Fualaau, giving start to 2 of his kids earlier than he was 15 and finally marrying him. Within the movie, Gracie is married to Joe, performed by Charles Melton, the fictionalized model of Fualaau.

We choose up the motion as their youngest kids put together to graduate from highschool. At this level, Joe is a 36-year-old stay-at-home dad and Gracie is in her mid- to late-50s. An actress named Elizabeth, portrayed by Natalie Portman, is about to play a fictionalized model of Gracie, and drops into the household’s life to attempt to study extra about them.

All through the movie, we, like Elizabeth, start to see the actual nature of Joe and Gracie’s relationship. It is one predicated on stereotypes and racism — Joe fulfills the subdued, subservient function so typically foisted upon Asian People, and their relationship is comparatively accepted as a result of Gracie weaponizes her whiteness. In the end, the movie exposes how flipped gender and racial roles enable sexual abuse to be extra palatable for and accepted by most of the people.

Let’s begin with Joe. Though he is effectively into his 30s, he more and more comes off as childlike because the movie progresses. He is not a full-fledged grownup or equal associate. Fairly, he’s infinitely subservient to Gracie, solely doing what he thinks is predicted of him.

This feeds into the dangerous stereotype that Asian males are complacent and obedient. Importantly, it is a sharp distinction to how white males are often depicted: dominant, brash, aggressive. Joe virtually fades into the background at a neighborhood barbecue, virtually like he’s employed assist, till Gracie calls upon him. It is clear that Gracie has groomed him, like a toy to fill some a part of herself — and he or she’s been ready to take action no less than partly due to his race.

May December, Charles Melton as Joe. Cr. François Duhamel / Courtesy of NetflixMay December, Charles Melton as Joe. Cr. François Duhamel / Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

In a single scene, for instance, Joe confides that the opposite ladies at college weren’t a lot into him, however “Gracie noticed me and I needed that.” It is clear he has internalized the white savior complicated. Gracie was very a lot capable of leverage the notion of Joe as an “different” to her benefit, particularly so as a result of he grew up in a largely white group. Certainly, we study that Gracie fetishized Joe proper from the beginning, first noticing him solely as a result of he and his household have been the one Asians within the neighborhood.

Gracie is, in distinction to Joe, much more controlling, treating Joe extra like a instrument or dehumanized servant than as her husband. On the similar time, she has come to weaponize her conventional “sufferer” function as a white lady. She makes it sound like everyone seems to be out to make her really feel unhealthy and harm her. She even tells Elizabeth at one level, “I’m naive. I all the time have been. In a means, it has been a present.” In her relationship with Joe, whereas she is clearly the one in management, she fights to take care of this sufferer narrative. As she explains to Elizabeth, Joe “grew up in a short time,” whereas she herself was “very sheltered.”

“At play right here, too, is the express and implicit fetishization of Joe’s Asianness.”

When Joe’s repressed emotions about how their relationship first began finally float to the floor, he involves her extra like a baby than as an equal associate and husband. He asks, “Why cannot we discuss it?” Regardless that he was solely 13 years previous on the time and unable to consent, Gracie continues to feed him a false narrative. “You seduced me,” she tells him. “I do not care how previous you have been. Who was in cost? Who was the boss?”

This brings up the “sizzling for instructor” trope generally depicted in films and TV exhibits. Once we see a male instructor have interaction with a feminine pupil, it’s universally thought to be problematic and predatory. However when the roles are reversed, the notion is wildly totally different.

Take exhibits like “Dawson’s Creek” and “Riverdale.” In each circumstances, the male pupil is the instigator. We’re led to consider that these boys are prepared for bodily relationships, whereas the feminine lecturers merely get swept up in all of it. This framing utterly eclipses the reality of the matter, which is that Gracie is a pedophile and an abuser.

At play right here, too, is the express and implicit fetishization of Joe’s Asianness. It is more durable to name out as a result of we frequently see this within the type of so-called yellow fever and the objectification of Asian girls. But it surely occurs to Asian males as effectively — often within the type of an exoticization or emasculation.

Gracie is not the one one to fetishize Joe’s Asianness. As Elizabeth opinions the audition tapes for who would possibly play Joe within the film inside a film, she notes that the youngsters are “not horny sufficient. You’ve got seen him. He is acquired this, like, quiet confidence. Whilst a child, I am positive.” Equally, she is ready to weaponize her white womanhood to seduce Joe herself.

The disturbing fact that underlies your complete film (and Letourneau’s real-life crime) is that if Joe’s character had been a white woman and Gracie’s character had been an Asian man, the narrative could be acquired in a wildly totally different means. That dynamic could be virtually inconceivable for many American audiences to simply accept as even believable. There is no means an emasculated Asian male instructor would’ve been capable of manipulate and seduce a younger white feminine pupil — and even when he did, it might be overtly predatory and unacceptable.

The relative acceptance of Gracie’s actions and motives — in addition to the opposite characters’ therapy of Joe — reaffirms that Asian males are seen as “lower than” in American society. Emasculated and fetishized, Asian males turn out to be passive instruments to fulfill and satiate the whims and fancies of the white majority. We prepare dinner your meals and clear your laundry as anonymous, faceless, infinitely replaceable devices of absolute servitude and silent acquiescence.

In the actual world, Letourneau and Fualaau legally separated in 2019 after 14 years of marriage and two kids collectively. She died from most cancers in 2020 on the age of 58, leaving a lot of her property to Fualaau. The ending of “Might December” is not fairly so conclusive. Fairly, it leaves us with extra questions value exploring.

Typical gender stereotypes performed a central function within the media’s portrayal of the real-world story. Letourneau was offered as a social sufferer, and her relationship with Fualaau was typically described by way of love. Her prison actions have been virtually excused within the court docket of public opinion, whereas Fualaau’s lived trauma is little greater than a footnote. It is her story that is of main curiosity, not his. Fualaau fades into the background, very like Joe does on the neighborhood barbecue, solely introduced up when it’s handy and he’s wanted to meet a activity.

In “Might December,” gender stereotypes equally take middle stage. However the racial implications aren’t examined with almost the identical stage of scrutiny. The ability imbalance is attributed to the dynamic between an older lady and a teenage boy, and far much less so to weaponized whiteness and subordinated Asianness.

We aren’t positive what occurs to Gracie and Joe by the tip of the movie, although it seems like she nonetheless has his claws in him and he’ll proceed to really feel hopelessly trapped of their relationship. As a result of that is what she needs, and what he needs by no means mattered anyhow.


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