How the team behind Netflix Untold recreated the Monty Two Girlfriend hoax
In high school, Tu was an all-around star — beloved by those around him and on track for a full football scholarship to the University of Notre Dame.
Then tragedy struck. His grandmother died, and then his girlfriend. Both on the same day.
Only, his girlfriend didn’t die.
It was a total catfish — with Runaya ‘Niya’ Tuiasosopo, the woman behind the scam, caught in the middle.
Tou, Toyasusopo, and the elaborate 2013 betrayal are the subjects of a new two-part documentary, “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Ext,” directed by Ryan Duffy and Tony Vennocco, out Tuesday on Netflix.
The story of Tu and his fake girlfriend is a well-known one, but the story of Tuiasosopo — who created the fictional girlfriend as a way to come to terms with his gender dysphoria — is less so.
Although the audience may recognize Te’o’s name at first, the documentary opens with Tuiasosopo. She plays a central role throughout the two episodes, bringing the audience with her on a journey of self-discovery and gender identity — based in part on her experiences on Catfishing Two.
CNN spoke with McLaneway, who created the “Untold” series with brother Chapman, about how the team came to portray Tuiasosopo’s and Te’o’s journeys as simultaneous and separate.
What made you decide to focus specifically on the story of Manti Tou and Nia?
When we got the news that we would be able to make more “Untolds” and that we would have a volume two, it was a story that was on our literal and proverbial whiteboard of sports ideas. It’s something that my brother and I remember very well, just reading that kind of news media and all the noise.
We caught up with Nia and just had an interesting conversation with her. It was a call that was probably only going to be 15, or 20 minutes, and we talked to him for two hours. And she just ran us through a remarkable journey that she’s been on, a journey of self-discovery and self-identity and how she identifies as a trans woman.
And then in terms of reaching out to Minty and talking to him, I think he was approached by a lot of people over the years to talk about this story. I think his inbox had been piling up with documentary pitches for years.
His NFL career was winding down – I doubt this would be a story he would have commented on or done an in-depth long-form interview on while he was still active in the NFL. But she had just gotten married and had a child, and I think both Nia and Manti, neither of them were too happy with how the media covered the story in 2013. I don’t think they wanted media coverage. There was a period at the end of this long sentence that was a story between these two people. And so I think the opportunity for both of them to do a long, in-depth interview about this story was fascinating and attractive to them. And for us as filmmakers, that’s when we knew, “Okay, we have something special here. Monty-Two-Girlfriend hoax.
One thing that stood out to me is that it’s a story about Manti, but you chose to lead with Nia, and you just said you talked to her first. Why did you choose to lead with him and put his story at the forefront?
The new Dr. Phil appeared on the show and engaged in light media appearances but never went on record and told her full side of the story.
I always had these kinds of questions about who are the people involved in this catfishing… “How did this happen, how did this happen, what was the relationship between the two of you?” Monty-Two-Girlfriend hoax.
(Niya) was very open, very vulnerable, she told her story, warts and all. Just listening to his motivations for why he decided to occupy this space, why he created this online identity profile, DM and message a football player like Minty Two, build a relationship, call — all of it. It was fascinating to us and I think that was why we were so interested in talking to him.
I’m a sports fan but I thought it was that part of the story that got me.
Yes, and I think we don’t have a strong enough mandate, or we don’t like to shoehorn these stories into specific thematic overarching bridges between all our “untold” documentaries. But I kind of think, none of our documentaries, even though they’re sports documentaries, really have anything to do with who wins the championship game. Who will hit the three-pointer with the clock running down, and win the game for their team? We talk about these stories because they’re just really interesting things that are happening off the field or on the ice or the court. That’s the story we like to tell in the vein of making these sports documentaries.
For him, this kind of mega-big catfishing scandal from 2013, was just brewing. Yes, it’s a sports story, a football story to a certain extent, but it’s a story about two very young people — I think 19 when they were forming this relationship. 20 years — and so for us, they were just two people who knew what that conversation was, they knew what their relationship was like, they knew how they felt about each other. And so for us, it was a pressing need to have both of us talk about it because I think that’s the only way you can tell that kind of story.
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Nia’s transition journey is a huge part of this documentary, and I know you included a disclaimer that Minty and some of the interviewers didn’t know that Nia was trans when they referenced her. You also showed some old photos and footage from before his transition. I know that sometimes those things can be sensitive for many people. How did you decide to navigate that in two episodes, especially for an audience that might not be as familiar with transgender identity and LGBTQ+ issues?
I think the bottom line is that these documentaries take a long time just because they are art forms, and it took us over two years to make a two-part documentary for us. When we first spoke to Nia, the way she talked about her journey of self-discovery and self-realization was an evolutionary process.
She now, and we are very much encouraging her, to identify as a proud trans woman. But at the time we were filming this documentary, his journey was somewhat developing. So through conversations with him and our team and people who are deeply rooted in LGBTQ issues, we realized that it’s not our place as filmmakers to make others go through this complicated journey. Tell her about what she was going to do. I think if the documentary was starting today, considering where Nia is, we might be at a different point, but at the time… Nia wasn’t identifying as such.
Was there anything that surprised you as you were going through the research and reporting process?
We felt that Naya and Manti were our main storytellers, but as you introduce other people and other people have their perspectives or experiences with the story, we got that investigation that Tim in Deadspin had. It was done by Burke and Jack Dickey. The story is very interesting. He’s the one who received the anonymous tip and was the first to break and publish the story, but it was fascinating to learn about the behind-the-scenes look at how he works as an investigative journalist.
We always felt like the Deadspin guys could have a range of interesting sounds. No one might know about this story if they didn’t choose to take the anonymous tip they had. So they seemed to have a direct impact on the story, a direct impact on certain plot points of the story and how the story unfolded. Monty-Two-Girlfriend hoax.
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There’s this idea in the episodes, you could call it genealogy, where both Manti and Naya are focusing on being an inspiration to those who come after them, especially in the second episode. Was that a theme you all thought about while putting these episodes together?
I think it was just something that felt real and important in the way he talked about it. For both Nia and Manti, we did several multi-day interviews, long day interviews, and two to three days with each of them. And in the process, it’s a unique way to talk to people and hear their stories, but I think you get to think about what’s important to them and what they do on a deep, real human level. feel And I think they both spoke from the heart when they talked about this and that meaning. So for us as artists and filmmakers, when you get interview responses back from your subjects it’s like a guiding light and a star that inspires you to put into your documentary. I think it was very genuine of them.
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