Stossel: How True Is 'Monster'?

Feb. 13 —, 2004 -- The Academy Awards are coming up with Charlize Theron favored to win the Best Actress award for her role in Monster, which claims it is "based on a true story." But it is not as true as you might think.

Theron has already picked up the Golden Globe for Monster, and I'd give Theron an award too — she transformed herself for the movie.

Theron gained 30 pounds by doing things like eating Krispy Kreme donuts, and with the help of makeup artists, she changed her glamorous self into a dead ringer for serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was convicted and then executed 12 years ago in Florida.

In the movie, Wuornos is presented as a killer with a soft side in a loving lesbian relationship with her girlfriend, as played by Christina Ricci.

But the real criminal had a deadly side, too. And here's the problem: If filmmakers say their movie is "based on a true story," shouldn't the heart of the story be true?

Down on Her Luck, or Brutal Killer?

Wuornos was a prostitute and hitchhiked across central Florida to find customers. In the movie, she tries to go straight but society lets her down, making it difficult for her to find a job, so she returns to the streets.

As Monster tells it, one john brutally beats and rapes Wuornos in some very disturbing scenes. When the attacker threatens to kill her, she shoots him in self-defense. When moviegoers see the graphic rape scene, many feel Wuornos is the victim. This has family members of the real victims unhappy.

Theron helped produce the film, and talks about the research she did while promoting the film. I would think the research would include talking to the prosecutor, John Tanner, who spent years investigating Wuornos and the seven men she killed. But he was not consulted.

"You know, these men had wives. They have daughters, brothers, sons, friends," Tanner told ABCNEWS. "And anyone that sees that film is left with the impression that — at least some of the men that were murdered deserved to die and that she was acting in self-defense. It's a total lie."

Wuornos even admitted that her crimes, committed in Florida in the 1980s, were not "self-defense." During her trial, Wuornos took the stand and said she "robbed" the men and killed them "as cold as ice."

"And I'd do it again, too, I know I'd kill another person, 'cause I've hated humans for a long time," said Wuornos. She then continued to claim the men were innocent while in prison, after she said she found God.

"I want to come clean. There is no self-defense," said Wuornos. "And so I need to come clean, I need to tell the world that there is no self-defense in my cases."

Victims’ Families Ignored

When picking up her Golden Globe for her performance, Theron thanked lots of people, but she never once mentioned the families of the murdered men.

"I don't think they cared about the victims' families," said Linda Yates. Her mother was engaged to Gino Antonio, when Wuornos killed him. "[Wuornos] was just a vicious person," said Yates.

In fact, the filmmakers didn't talk to any of the victims families. Mike Humphreys' dad was also murdered. He has a problem with the way the movie was produced: "I don't think that they ought to do this to the victims out there," said Humphreys.

"This movie is portraying her as a victim," said Letha Prater. "She isn't. She was not a victim. My brother was a victim."

Most of the family members won't go to the movie.

The movie does acknowledge Wuornos killed one man who was trying to help her, but all the others are shown as johns. The families say that's cruel to them.

Producers Defend Their Choices

I confronted Brad Wyman, one of Monster's producers.

I told him that while in the movie, Wuornos' character is tied up, beaten and raped, but in reality, she said that never happened. "I believe she said that in order to actually try to expedite her own execution," said Wyman. "She really wanted to end her own personal tragedy."

Wyman said the filmmaker did her best to protect the victims in the portrayal, changing details including their license plates and the color of their cars. But they never spoke to the victims' families because, as Wyman puts it, they did not want to "unearth more tragedy in their lives."

Wyman explained why the film took liberties with some facts. "It's not a documentary. I mean in no way is it," said Wyman. "It is a dramatic portrayal searching for kind of a greater truth rather than a … a factual truth."

A greater truth than factual truth?

Give me a break.