Leaving Neverland


-Photo courtesy of HBO

Pop superstar Michael Jackson poses with a young Wade Robson.

A vintage video appears on the screen, a black border surrounding it. A man and a young boy are seen at a photoshoot dancing, joking around, laughing, and having a good time. This was the beginning of a controversial and disturbing documentary accusing late popstar Michael Jackson of sexual abuse and manipulation of two young boys. The lightheartedness of this first scene was a contrast to the content of the film. Prior to this, a trigger warning cautions people about the heavy topics discussed in the film.

HBO aired the two-part and four-hour long series, Leaving Neverland, on March 3rd and 4th. Leaving Neverland was produced and directed by British filmmaker Dan Reed. The documentary focused on the alleged victims, Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Robson, 36, is now a dancer and choreographer, and Safechuck, 41, is a software developer. They both reflect on the intimate relationships and alleged abuse they experienced at the hands of Michael Jackson, which all occured when they were just children.

The documentary first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, held on the end of January, in Park City, Utah. The initial release left spectators shocked and slightly disturbed due to the dark nature of the topic. At the festival, Dan Reed warned the audience of the film, and mental health professionals were present for people who may be upset by watching it. One audience member, who says he was molested as a child, states Robson, Safechuck, and Reed “are going to do a lot more f–king good in the world than Michael f–king Jackson” (reported by Amy Kaufman to Entertainment News). The response to the release at Sundance was emotional and overwhelmingly supportive.

The documentary begins with an old video of the superstar and his alleged victim. Pictures flash on the screen as the men describe the positive characteristics of Michael Jackson. The introduction solemnly concludes with Robson claiming he was sexually assaulted by Jackson for seven years. The documentary continues with Robson and his mother explaining how the relationship began. Seemingly innocent, Robson talks about his original love and respect for Michael, music, and dancing. He then explains how they met at a dance competition held at Jackson’s concert. Around forty minutes into the film, Safechuck introduces the beginning of their intimate relationship, followed by Robson. Then, both delved into vivid detail of the alleged horrors faced in their childhood. The first episode of the documentary concludes with a statement by Robson’s mother. One day later, HBO released the second part of the documentary. Part two deals with the after effects of Michael Jackson’s alleged abuse. Robson’s family describes how Jackson tore the family apart, convincing them to leave Australia and move to the States. After Michael moved on, their lives were still left in shreds. The documentary then introduces the men’s wives, Amanda and Laura. Both men recount the serious battle with depression each faced throughout his life. It is revealed that both men are now fathers. “They say time heals all wounds,” Safechuck said. “But I don’t think time heals this one. It just gets worse.” Towards the end, Robson’s mother claims she still cannot forgive herself. Safechuck’s mother says Jackson took her son’s childhood away and the man he could have been, calling Jackson a pedophile with clear anger and disgust in her voice. The documentary concludes with Safechuck stating, “I think they [my parents] thought they were doing the right thing (…) it’s all a big seduction. So do I blame them?” A brief pause occurs until he ends with, “I’m still working on it.”

One memorable scene was when Safechuck, hands trembling, held a jewelry box. He fished through the rings, explaining stories of abuse tied to them. The scene ends with him closing the box and agonizingly saying, “I don’t like looking at the jewelry.” The emotion these two men, along with their families, displayed was passionate and palpable. As the story of the abuse unfolded, my heart became heavier. You can see the victims disassociate as they recall the alleged abuse. Filled with recordings of phone calls, handwritten notes, photographs, and grainy-films, it leaves viewers with an uncomfortable and disturbing feeling.

Nearly every aspect of Finding Neverland was filled with controversy. The whole project caused lawsuits, arguments, and a social media frenzy. Jackson’s fans and family stand by him while people who question his innocence applaud the documentary. The Jackson Estate vehemently denies the allegations, deeming it a “public lynching” and labeling the men as admitted liars. The estate continued their stance by filing a lawsuit against HBO for 100 million dollars, revealed in an interview with Vox. Safechuck, Robson, and Reed, alongside their family and supporters, defend their claim. The accusers pointed out there was no financial motive in creating this film. Reed emphasized that these men were not paid to narrate the film, and recording it only took three days.  Personally, I do believe the credibility of the victims, due to all the recordings and evidence that was presented. Nevertheless, controversy will continue to surround this topic, especially due to Michael Jackson’s stardom.

Sophomore Matthew Medrano spoke about Leaving Neverland and Michael Jackson: “I heard about the Michael Jackson scandal on the news. It was definitely something I did not suspect or see coming. I never watched the documentary, and I am conflicted about watching it. I feel like if I watch it, it might ruin Michael’s music to me. I listen to his songs maybe once a week when they are on the radio. I think the documentary definitely re-evaluates his reputation, whether or not it is true.”