The standing ovation seemed to come as a shock. At last month’s Sundance Film Festival, Wade Robson and James Safechuck were teary-eyed as they faced the applause, following the premiere screening of Leaving Neverland, an excruciatingly immersive documentary that accuses the late Michael Jackson of sexually molesting them as young boys.
The two-part, four-hour documentary was directed by Dan Reed and details the alleged abuse of two boys in the 1980s and 1990s, usually during overnight stays amid the fantasy world of Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County, California. Safechuck was an actor from Southern California then, Robson a little dancer from Australia, when the alleged pedophilia began when both were under 10 years old.
“We can’t change what happened to us,” Robson, now a father and a successful choreographer, told the Sundance audience. “And we can’t do anything about stopping Michael. He’s dead. That’s gone. What happened, happened. The feeling is, what can we do with it now?”
Audiences across North America will find out when Leaving Neverland airs in two parts this Sunday and Monday on HBO. Across its four hours, the documentary patiently allows Robson and Safechuck (and members of their families) to tell their stories in graphic detail, as they grapple with the alleged abuse and the genuine love they once had as boys for the pop superstar.
Both say their relationships with Jackson lasted for years, with out-of-town trips and long stays at Neverland. There were good times and games in the daytime, sexual abuse in Jackson’s bedroom at night, according to the documentary. In the film, Robson and Safechuck claim that the singer warned singer warned them that if the sexual contact was ever discovered, they would all go to jail.
Safechuck was called “Little One,” he says. And the singer’s direct impact was felt not only on them as boys, but on their parents and siblings. There are several family snapshots with Jackson, the otherworldly King of Pop, relaxing in their suburban homes.
The making of Leaving Neverland began before the rise of the MeToo movement and horrifying revelations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein. It has already been attacked by members of the Jackson family, who point out that both Robson and Safechuck have each filed lawsuits against the estate of Jackson, who died in 2009.
The Jackson family has begun a vociferous defense of the late pop icon, noting that these same accusers had defended Jackson in the past from similar allegations. In an interview this week withRolling Stone, the singer’s brothers and nephew insisted the documentary and the two former child companions are now simply looking for fame and fortune. “It’s about the money,” Marlon Jackson said. The Jackson estate is suing HBO for $100 million.
Robson and Safechuck were not compensated for participating in the documentary. After missing California’s statute of limitations for suing the estate of a deceased person, their individual lawsuits are currently on appeal.
Either way, Leaving Neverland is a direct threat to Jackson’s legacy and his estate, which has remained active and grown only more profitable since his death, earning $2.1 billion in profits (adjusted for inflation) since 2009, according to Forbes. There’s currently a tribute show in Las Vegas, an upcoming Broadway musical and ongoing releases of Jackson’s music.
Robson and Safechuck seem prepared to be attacked. What surprised the two was the support from that audience at Sundance and elsewhere. Jackson’s two former friends aren’t demanding that we all erase our positive memories of the music Jackson left behind. But Robson and Safechuck can’t listen anymore.
(Excerpt) Read more in: Rolling Stone