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

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, lively in his religion and straightforward to get together with.

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

Te’o, Tuiasosopo and the flowery 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 faux girlfriend is a widely known one, however the story of Tuiasosopo — who created the fictional girlfriend as a solution to come to phrases along with her personal gender dysphoria — is much less so. Tuiasosopo has since come out as a transgender girl.

Although audiences might first acknowledge Te’o’s identify, 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 identification — formed partly by her experiences catfishing Te’o.

CNN spoke with Maclain Method, who created the “Untold” collection with brother Chapman, about how the workforce 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 determine to concentrate on Manti Te’o and Naya’s story particularly?

Once we received the information that we would be able to make extra “Untolds” and we would have a quantity two, this was a narrative that was on our literal and proverbial whiteboard of sports activities concepts. It is simply all the time been a white whale within the sports activities documentary house; it is 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 interesting dialog along with her. It was most likely 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 girl.

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 extremely fascinating time in his life. His NFL profession was winding down — I doubt that this is able to’ve been a narrative that he would’ve commented on or completed a extremely lengthy type in-depth interview on whereas he was nonetheless lively 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 massive coated this saga again in 2013. I do not 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 essentially interview at size, at deep, about this story was interesting and enticing to them. And for us as filmmakers, that is once we actually knew, “All right, we have something special here. I think we can go make this documentary film.”

One factor that stood out to me is this can be a story about Manti clearly, however you select to guide with Naya, and also you simply mentioned that you simply really spoke to her first. However many individuals might count on the episodes to be extra football-focused. Why did you make that selection to guide along 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 gentle media performances however had by no means actually gone deep on the report and informed her complete facet of the story.

I all the time sort of had extra questions on who’re the those that have interaction on this catfishing… “how did this happen, 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 identification 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 curious about talking along with her.

Manti Te'o in "Untold."

I am 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 do not fairly have a mandate, or we do not 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, although 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 workforce. Actually, we speak about these tales as they’re simply very fascinating issues taking place off-field or off-ice or off-court. That is 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 is a story 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 that 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 powerful requirement that we’d have each of them talk about this as a result of I feel that is actually the one approach you possibly can 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 did not know Naya is trans when referring to her. You additionally confirmed some older photographs and photographs from earlier than she transitioned. I do know generally these issues might be delicate for lots of oldsters. How did you determine to navigate that within the two episodes, significantly for an viewers that might not be as accustomed to transgender identification 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 types, and a two-part documentary for us took us over two years to make. Once 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 girl. However on the time that we have been filming this documentary, her journey was evolving to a level. So in dialogue along with her and our workforce and folks which are deeply rooted into LGTBQ issues, we mainly had an understanding that it wasn’t fairly our place as filmmakers to inform others concerning the complicated journey that she was happening. I feel if the documentary was beginning in the present day, contemplating the place Naya’s at, we’d most likely be in a special level, however at the moment… Naya wasn’t fairly figuring out as that.

Brian and Ottilia Te'o, Manti's parents, in "Untold."

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

We positively felt like Naya and Manti have been our principal storytellers, however clearly as you get launched to different folks and different folks 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 received 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 principal storytellers and you then begin to consider who else might have fascinating voices. We all the time felt just like the Deadspin guys might have fascinating voices to a level. Perhaps nobody is aware of actually about this story in the event that they did not select to pursue that nameless tip that they’d. In order 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 folks coming after them, significantly within the second episode. Was {that a} theme that you simply all thought of whereas placing these episodes collectively?

I feel it was simply one thing that felt real and essential 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 is a distinctive solution to converse with folks 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 degree. And I feel for each of them they spoke from the guts once they talked about that and that that means. So for us as artists and filmmakers, if you get these interview solutions again out of your topics it actually is sort of a guiding gentle and a star not directly that encourages you to place them in your documentary movie. I feel it was simply very real from them.