EntertainmentManti Te'o: How Netflix's 'Untold' team reframed the girlfriend hoax

Manti Te’o: How Netflix’s ‘Untold’ team reframed the girlfriend hoax


Manti Te’o was once revered.

In highschool, Te’o was an all-around star – beloved by these round him and on observe for a full soccer scholarship on the College of Notre Dame. He was the golden boy in his Hawaii hometown, energetic in his religion and straightforward to get together with.

Then, tragedy struck. His grandma died, then his girlfriend. Each on the identical day.

Solely, his girlfriend didn’t really die. His girlfriend, the media found, didn’t even exist.

It was a catfish all alongside – with Ronaiah ‘Naya’ Tuiasosopo, the girl behind the hoax, caught within the center.

Te’o, Tuiasosopo and the frilly 2013 hoax are the topic of a brand new two-part documentary, “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist,” directed by Ryan Duffy and Tony Vainuku, out Tuesday on Netflix.

The story of Te’o and his pretend girlfriend is a well known one, however the story of Tuiasosopo – who created the fictional girlfriend as a method to come to phrases together with her personal gender dysphoria – is much less so. Tuiasosopo has since come out as a transgender lady.

Although audiences might first acknowledge Te’o’s title, the documentary opens with Tuiasosopo. She takes a central position all through the 2 episodes, bringing audiences alongside on her journey of self discovery and gender id – formed partially by her experiences catfishing Te’o.

CNN spoke with Maclain Means, who created the “Untold” collection with brother Chapman, about how the staff approached portraying Tuiasosopo’s and Te’o’s journeys as each synchronous and separate.

This dialog has been edited for size and readability.

What made you resolve to deal with Manti Te’o and Naya’s story particularly?

After we obtained the information that we’d be capable of make extra “Untolds” and we’d have a quantity two, this was a narrative that was on our literal and proverbial whiteboard of sports activities concepts. It’s simply at all times been a white whale within the sports activities documentary house; it’s one thing that my brother and I bear in mind very properly, simply sort of studying the information media on it and all of the noise.

We reached out to Naya and simply had an enchanting dialog together with her. It was in all probability a name that was solely going to be 15, 20 minutes, and we ended up speaking to her for 2 hours. And she or he ran us by means of only a outstanding journey that she’s been on, a journey of self-discovery and self-identity and the way she identifies as a trans lady.

After which by way of reaching out to Manti and speaking to him, I positively assume lots of people had approached him about speaking about this story over time. I feel there was a pile of documentary pitches sitting in his inbox over the course of the years.

I feel we caught Manti at a very fascinating time in his life. His NFL profession was winding down – I doubt that this could’ve been a narrative that he would’ve commented on or accomplished a very lengthy kind in-depth interview on whereas he was nonetheless energetic within the NFL. However he’d simply gotten married and simply had a child, and I feel for each Naya and Manti, neither have been fairly proud of how the media at giant coated this saga again in 2013. I don’t assume they needed that media protection to be the interval on the finish of this actually lengthy sentence that was a narrative between these two people. And so I feel for each of them the chance to actually interview at size, at deep, about this story was interesting and engaging to them. And for us as filmmakers, that’s after we actually knew, “All proper, we’ve one thing particular right here. I feel we will go make this documentary movie.”

Naya Tuiasosopo in

One factor that stood out to me is it is a story about Manti clearly, however you select to guide with Naya, and also you simply mentioned that you just really spoke to her first. However many individuals might count on the episodes to be extra football-focused. Why did you make that alternative to guide together with her and put her story on the forefront?

It was the place, as filmmakers, we sort of had probably the most questions. Naya had appeared on the Dr. Phil present and had engaged with mild media performances however had by no means actually gone deep on the report and informed her complete facet of the story.

I at all times sort of had extra questions on who’re the those who have interaction on this catfishing… “how did this occur, how did this come about, how was this relationship like between you two?”

(Naya) was very open, very weak, she informed her story warts and all. Simply listening to her motivations of why she determined to occupy this house, why create this on-line id profile, DM and message a soccer participant like Manti Te’o, construct a relationship, have telephone calls – it was all simply actually fascinating for us and i believe that was actually the premise of why we have been so desirous about talking together with her.

Manti Te'o in

I’m a sports activities fan however I positively thought that her a part of the story was the one which roped me in.

Yeah, and I feel additionally we don’t fairly have a mandate, or we don’t actually wish to shoehorn these tales into particular thematic overarching bridges between all of our “Untold” documentaries. However I do assume in a approach, none of our documentaries, despite the fact that they’re sports activities documentaries, actually have something to do with who’s going to win the championship recreation, who’s going to hit the three-pointer because the clock winds down and win the sport for his or her staff. Actually, we discuss these tales as they’re simply very fascinating issues occurring off-field or off-ice or off-court. That’s actually the story telling that we like to inform within the vein of doing these sports activities documentaries.

For this one, this type of mega-big catfishing scandal from 2013, it simply appeared ripe. Sure, it’s a sports activities story, a soccer story to a level, however actually it’s a narrative about two people who have been fairly younger on the time – I feel they have been 19-, 20-years-old once they have been constructing this relationship – and so to us they have been actually the one two those who knew what these conversations have been, that knew what their relationship was like, that knew how one another felt about each other. And so for us, it was simply actually a robust requirement that we might have each of them talk about this as a result of I feel that’s actually the one approach you’ll be able to inform this sort of story.

Naya’s transition journey is a big a part of this documentary, and I do know you included a disclaimer that Manti and a few of these interviewed didn’t know Naya is trans when referring to her. You additionally confirmed some older images and pictures from earlier than she transitioned. I do know generally these issues may be delicate for lots of parents. How did you resolve to navigate that within the two episodes, significantly for an viewers that might not be as aware of transgender id and LGBTQ+ points?

I feel that the nuanced level to make is that these documentaries take a very long time simply because they’re their very own artwork kinds, and a two-part documentary for us took us over two years to make. After we first talked to Naya, the way in which she spoke about her journey of self-discovery and a journey of self-identity was an evolving course of.

She now, and we’re so encouraging of this, identifies as a proud trans lady. However on the time that we have been filming this documentary, her journey was evolving to a level. So in dialogue together with her and our staff and folks which might be deeply rooted into LGTBQ issues, we mainly had an understanding that it wasn’t fairly our place as filmmakers to inform others in regards to the complicated journey that she was occurring. I feel if the documentary was beginning at this time, contemplating the place Naya’s at, we might in all probability be in a distinct level, however at the moment… Naya wasn’t fairly figuring out as that.

Brian and Ottilia Te'o, Manti's parents, in

Was there something that stunned you as you all have been going in regards to the analysis and reporting course of? Something that caught out that you just hadn’t been anticipating?

We positively felt like Naya and Manti have been our major storytellers, however clearly as you get launched to different individuals and different individuals have their very own views or their very own experiences with the story, we did discover the investigation that Tim Burke and Jack Dickey at Deadspin did into the story very fascinating. Clearly they’re those that obtained the nameless tip and have been the primary to interrupt the story and hit publish, however the behind the scenes on simply how they function as investigative journalists was simply very fascinating to find out about.

I feel that these all sort of begin and cease the place you get your major storytellers and you then begin to consider who else may have fascinating voices. We at all times felt just like the Deadspin guys may have fascinating voices to a level. Possibly nobody is aware of actually about this story in the event that they didn’t select to pursue that nameless tip that that they had. So that they appeared to have a direct impression on the story, a direct impression on sure plot factors within the story and the way the story unfolded.

There’s this concept within the episodes of, you possibly can name it lineage perhaps, the place each Manti and Naya are specializing in being an inspiration to the individuals coming after them, significantly within the second episode. Was {that a} theme that you just all considered whereas placing these episodes collectively?

I feel it was simply one thing that felt real and vital in the way in which that they talked about it. For each Naya and Manti, we did a number of multi-day interviews, lengthy day interviews, two to 3 days with every of them. And in the midst of that course of, it’s a singular method to communicate with individuals and to listen to their tales, however I feel you positively decide up on what is essential to them and what they really feel on a deep, real human stage. And I feel for each of them they spoke from the guts once they talked about that and that which means. So for us as artists and filmmakers, once you get these interview solutions again out of your topics it actually is sort of a guiding mild and a star ultimately that encourages you to place them in your documentary movie. I feel it was simply very real from them.

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