Manti Te’o and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo: The movie

Did the football star's seducer get the idea from a 2006 indie film? Maybe not, but the parallels are striking

Topics: Manti Te'o, manti te'o hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, College Football, Movies, Gay, gay culture, LGBT, , ,

Manti Te'o and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo: The movie (Credit: AP/Darron Cummings)

No doubt the strange affair of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o and his imaginary dead girlfriend will provide fodder for a movie somewhere down the line, whether cheesy and lesson-oriented, sleazy and exploitative or arty and sensitive (or perhaps all three at once). But with the recent confirmation that Te’o’s acquaintance Ronaiah Tuiasosopo created and maintained the female persona of Lennay Kekua because he was “deeply, romantically in love” with the studly football hero, it came to me that this story already is a movie.

Various commentators have already pointed out the similarities between the Te’o affair and other information-age scams, from the film-turned-TV show-turned-verb “Catfish” to the story of JT LeRoy, a purported transgender teen genius from Appalachia who turned out to be an adult female New York writer named Laura Albert. And it’s not as if Tuiasosopo was the first man in history to pose as a woman in order to seduce another man – or, on a more theoretical level, to blur the boundaries of sexual orientation. Just looking at recent culture, you have “M. Butterfly” and “The Crying Game,” not to mention the profusion of transgender or “shemale” pornography, which deliberately confuses heterosexual and homosexual desire and is primarily consumed by nominally straight men.

But I’m not sure anyone has yet noticed that the story of Manti Te’o and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is almost exactly the same as the plot of the 2006 low-budget indie film “Wild Tigers I Have Known” by writer-director Cam Archer, who made the film when he was 24 years old. Deliberately opaque and experimental in the manner of early Gus Van Sant (who lent his name as an executive producer), “Wild Tigers” tells the story of a lonely, androgynous California teen named Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), who has not yet defined himself as gay or transgender or anything else, but becomes obsessed with a handsome, athletic older boy named Rodeo (Patrick White). As I remember the film, Rodeo is a football player, but I can’t find any published reviews to corroborate that, and it may have been a different sport. He’s a stud and a BMOC, let’s leave it at that.

You Might Also Like

While there’s no suggestion that Rodeo is gay, he’s depicted as a sensitive and introspective young man who despises the bullying Logan is often subjected to and doesn’t much enjoy hanging out with his jock peers or their girlfriends. He befriends Logan and they go on hikes together in the nearby woods where mountain lions (not wild tigers) have been seen. But Logan seeks a different kind of intimacy, and believes he understands Rodeo in a way that so-called real girls don’t. He begins calling the older boy at night, adopting the bold, flirtatious persona of a girl named Leah, who describes herself in luscious terms and lures Rodeo into a phone-sex relationship. Tuiasosopo’s Lennay Kekua persona actually lasted much longer and ended with a more melodramatic flourish. In the movie, Logan doesn’t kill Leah off; instead he arranges an in-person meeting and comes clean – at least, in murky art-film terms — after only a few virtual encounters.

The psychological dynamic shown in the film, the drama of a younger boy who is confused about his own sexual responses and feels himself passionately drawn to an older, more masculine figure and intrigued by playing a “feminine” role — at the risk of playing amateur Dr. Phil, that sounds very similar to what was apparently going on with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Am I suggesting that Tuiasosopo, a real-life California kid who says he is trying to “recover from homosexuality,” got the idea for his fake-girlfriend romance with a football star from a gay-themed experimental film that hardly anyone saw? I suppose we can’t rule that out, but it isn’t likely. According to IMDB, “Wild Tigers” earned less than $10,000 in its brief theatrical release, and it doesn’t appear to be available on-demand or on the Internet; the DVD is out of print and costs $25 or more. The possibility that Tuiasosopo ever heard about the movie, still less saw it, is not high. It’s much more plausible that this is a case of life imitating art, which was no doubt imitating life in the first place. Almost all young people have their hearts broken by wanting someone they can’t have, and almost all of us go through periods of pretending to be someone we’re not. For Tuiasosopo and the hero of “Wild Tigers I Have Known,” and for other kids who feel unsure about their sexual orientation or gender identity, those fictions can sometimes get a little crazy.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>