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I Am Begging Netflix Not to Be Weird With Its ‘May December’ Marketing

In a scene from May December, Charles Melton stands over a barbeque grill.

Todd Haynes’ May December is now out on Netflix and is already an early awards season darling. The film is a complex, provocative, darkly funny melodrama exploring issues of grooming, agency, and morality. Not that you’d know that by looking at Netflix’s social media marketing.

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Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton, May December is lightly based on Mary Kay Letourneau, the teacher who was convicted in the ’90s on two counts of rape against an elementary school student whom she would go on to marry after serving seven and a half years in prison.

Melton (Riverdale) plays Joe, a fictionalized version of Letourneau’s victim, Villi Fualaau. (Moore plays Gracie, loosely inspired by Letourneau.) Without getting into spoilers, Joe struggles in the film to come to terms with his lack of agency and the damaging effects his relationship with Gracie has had on him, both as a child and now as an adult.

So please explain to me why Netflix’s social media team thought it was appropriate to present his character as a thirst trap meme.

According to that screenshot, the post (which seems to have been deleted) appears to be a collab between Netflix and Netflix Golden, the streamer’s account dedicated to celebrating Asian artists. It shows a shirtless Melton in a scene from the film, captioned “*stares in awe.*”

It is an extremely gross way to hype up a character who is the victim of sexual assault, especially as the crux of this character is his perpetually arrested development, never having been allowed or able to grow out of the wounded pre-teen version of himself.

This post immediately reminded me of the way Netflix chose to promote the French film Cuties a few years ago. That movie is centered on a young Black Muslim immigrant girl who becomes fascinated with a risqué dance group. The film explored the hypersexualization of young girls with sensitivity, but Netflix’s American promotional poster gave the impression the movie itself was engaging in that sort of sexualization. Netflix apologized for the poster but it wasn’t enough to combat review bombing and death threats the director received.

Netflix’s May December post and the context around it are different from the way Cuties was depicted but the results are very similar. Both instances take dark, fraught issues of sex and sexuality involving children and flatten them to remove the films’ nuance and complexity.

If Netflix is going to continue to distribute these sorts of emotionally and morally complicated films (and I hope they do!), they should really be investing resources into making sure they are treated with the care and respect they deserve.

(featured image: François Duhamel / Netflix)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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