An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself
Courtesy of Christina McDowell Christina McDowell (then Prousalis) with her father and his private plane during headier times.
Courtesy of Christina McDowell
BY CHRISTINA MCDOWELL
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, dear Kings of Hollywood, but you have been conned.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Christina McDowell, formerly Christina Prousalis. I am the daughter of Tom Prousalis, a man the Washington Post described as "just some guy on trial for penny-stock fraud." (I had to change my name after my father stole my identity and then threatened to steal it again, but I'll get to that part later.) I was eighteen and a freshman in college when my father and his attorneys forced me to attend his trial at New York City's federal courthouse so that he "looked good" for the jury -- the consummate family man.
And you, Jordan Belfort, Wall Street's self-described Wolf: You remember my father, right? You were chosen to be the government's star witness in testifying against him. You had pleaded guilty to money laundering and securities fraud (it was the least you could do) and become a government witness in two dozen cases involving your former business associate, but my father's attorney's blocked your testimony because had you testified it would have revealed more than a half-dozen other corrupt stock offerings too. And, well, that would have been a disaster. It would have just been too many liars, and too many schemes for the jurors, attorneys or the judge to follow.
But the records shows you and my father were in cahoots together with MVSI Inc. of Vienna, e-Net Inc. of Germantown, Md., Octagon Corp. of Arlington, Va., and Czech Industries Inc. of Washington, D.C., and so on -- a list of seemingly innocuous, legitimate companies that stretches on. I'll spare you. Nobody cares. None of these companies actually existed, yet all of them were taken public by the one and only Wolf of Wall Street and his firm Stratton Oakmont Inc in order to defraud unwitting investors and enrich yourselves.
As an eighteen-year-old, I had no idea what was going on. But then again, did anyone? Certainly your investors didn't -- and they were left holding the bag when you cashed out your holdings and got rich off their money.
So Marty and Leo, while you glide through press junkets and look forward to awards season, let me tell you the truth -- what happened to my mother, my two sisters, and me.
The day my father had to surrender to prison, I drove him. My mother had locked herself in the bathroom crying and throwing up, becoming nothing short of a more beautiful version of Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. Ironically enough, Marty, she looks like a cross between Sharon Stone and Michelle Pfeiffer. Totally your leading ingénue type. Anyhow, after my father successfully laundered money in my name, hiding what was left of our assets from the government in a Wells Fargo bank account, I arrived home to discover multiple phone calls from creditors and attorneys threatening to sue me. He'd left me in nearly $100,000 worth of debt. He left and never told me.
After all of that liquidated money was gone from the Wells Fargo bank account, things got pretty bad. My younger sister ran away at seventeen. My older sister struggled to finish school in Texas. I couch surfed for two years, sometimes dressing out of my car and stealing pieces of salami out of my boyfriends' refrigerators in the middle of the night, because I was so hungry and so ashamed that I couldn't feed myself. Tips at the restaurant weren't cutting it. It's a pretty confusing experience to go from flying private with Dad to an evening where he's begging you for a piece of your paycheck so he can buy food for dinner.
But, here's the real kicker --
I believed him.
I believed everything my father told me. I believed it was the government's fault he was going to prison and leaving his little princess, I believed it was your fault, Jordan Belfort. I believed that by taking out all those credit cards in my name, my father was attempting to save me. I believed him when he got out, and when he told me everything would be OK. I believed him until he tried to do the same thing all over again -- until I was at risk of being arrested myself (and I'm saving that story for the memoir).
So here's the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers' fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.
And yet you're glorifying it -- you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by The Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you'd be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn't made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don't even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.
But hey, listen boys, I get it. I was conned too. By. My. Own. Dad! I drove a white Range Rover in high school, snorted half of Colombia, and got any guy I ever wanted because my father would take them flying in his King Air.
And then I unraveled the truth. The truth about my father and his behavior: that behind all of it was really just insidious soul-sucking shame masked by addiction, which we love to call ambition, which is really just greed. Greed and the desire for fame (exactly what you've successfully given self-appointed motivational speaker/financial guru Jordan Belfort, whose business opportunities will surely multiply thanks to this film).
For me, it's become goddamn unbearable.
But I refuse to give up.
Belfort's victims, my father's victims, don't have a chance at keeping up with the Joneses. They're left destitute, having lost their life savings at the age of 80. They can't pay their medical bills or help send their children off to college because of characters like the ones glorified in Terry Winters' screenplay.
Let me ask you guys something. What makes you think this man deserves to be the protagonist in this story? Do you think his victims are going to want to watch it? Did we forget about the damage that accompanied all those rollicking good times? Or are we sweeping it under the carpet for the sale of a movie ticket? And not just on any day, but on Christmas morning??
So here's what I'm going to do first. I'm going to hand you my shame. Right now, in this very moment. The shame that I've been carrying for far too long as a result of being collateral damage. Because each of you should feel ashamed. And then I'm going to go pre-order my tickets to August: Osage County in support of Julia and Meryl -- because at least, as screwed up as that family is, they talk about the truth.
I urge each and every human being in America NOT to support this film, because if you do, you're simply continuing to feed the Wolves of Wall Street.
PS. Quick update on Dad: He is now doing business with the Albanian government and, rumor has it, married to a 30-year-old Albanian translator -- they always, always land on their feet.
Christina McDowell currently lives in Los Angeles. She volunteers with InsideOUT Writers, a nonprofit for children impacted by the criminal justice system, and is currently writing her memoir. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.