Leaving Neverland released on HBO, a four-hour documentary about two men who stayed at Michael Jackson's estate as children. There, they said, they were subjected to systematic sexual abuse and psychological abuse by the pop star.
The shocking confessions sparked a violent reaction on social media. Many of Jackson's fans accused the director and the characters of the film of lying to which the artist himself, who died in 2009 from an accidental overdose, cannot answer; they also dropped the rating of the film on IMDb (5.9 out of 10 at the time of this publication) and called for a boycott of HBO. In turn, Jackson's heirs called Dan Reed's tape "public lynching" and tried to block its release.
We will tell you what exactly Leaving Neverland is about and how it can change the current image of the “king of pop”, who, during his lifetime, was repeatedly accused of molestation, but never condemned.
The film focuses on the testimonies of Wade Robson and James Safechuck and their relatives. Robson, who met Jackson in the late eighties after winning a dance competition, moved with his mother and sister from Australia to the United States and starred in several music videos for the singer, and later became a successful choreographer: he worked with Britney Spears and 'N Sync and hosted own show on MTV. Safechuck, along with Jackson, starred in a Pepsi commercial, after which, together with his mother Stephanie, joined the singer's touring team. Both spent several years at Neverland Manor, a ranch and an amusement park named after a fictional island in the tale of Peter Pan and a symbol of Jackson's eccentric nature. Both report that Jackson sexually exploited them for several years: Safechuck claims the abuse began when he was ten, Robson when he was seven.
The extremely detailed and often overlapping descriptions of sexual acts, in which, according to the characters in the film, they were involved by children, are terrifying. But perhaps more terrifying is the psychological manipulation with which, according to Safechuck and Robson, Jackson gradually isolated them from their mothers and kept them silent for years about what happened. Safechak, in particular, shows off a diamond-encrusted gold ring that Jackson bought him for a symbolic engagement, and claims that after the first charge of molestation in 1993 (the case was settled out of court), the singer announced that he would start dating women to divert his eyes, but "it won't mean anything" (Jackson subsequently married twice, in 1994 and 1996, both marriages ended in divorce, in 1996 and 1999, respectively).
Men claim to have been
in psychological dependence
from a pop star: he convinced that he loved
them and what if they talk about their connection, their lives will be destroyed just like his
The mothers of Robson and Safechak say that Jackson behaved like a hospitable host, he filled them and their children withts and showed concern in every possible way, so they did not have any suspicions that the artist might behave inappropriately. The heroes of the film themselves claim that the violence occurred only when they were left alone with Jackson in rooms where outsiders could not enter (and if they approached, an alert system was triggered).
Both Robson and Safechuck were involved in a 2005 lawsuit in which Jackson was accused of child molestation. Both defended the artist, stating under oath that he sometimes slept with them in the same bed, but never sexually abused them.This fact, according to film critics, makes Robson and Safechak unreliable witnesses and undermines the credibility of their testimony. The men themselves claim that they were in a psychological dependence on the pop star: he convinced him that he loved them and that if they talked about their relationship, their lives would be destroyed just like him. Robson remained loyal even after Jackson's death, declaring in 2009: "His love will live in me forever." He decided to change his testimony only after experiencing nervous breakdowns in 2011-2012.
The reaction of the heirs
Jackson's heirs have repeatedly tried to prevent the release of "Leaving Neverland": first at the Sundance festival, where the screening of the film ended with a standing ovation (while many viewers could not hold back their tears), then on HBO, which the heirs threatened to sue. When it became clear that the film would still be released, they posted recordings of Jackson's two concerts, in Bucharest and London, on the Web, inviting the artist's fans to watch them as an alternative.
Such desperate gestures are hardly dictated only by concern for the image of the deceased idol. Together with the property of Jackson, his heirs also passed on his debts (about $ 400 million, according to an estimate of ten years ago), while the assets he received are depreciating in value. The heirs' deal with Sony Music, under which Epic Records pays $ 250 million for the right to release ten posthumous albums of Jackson (collected from his archival recordings), came under attack after lawsuits from the artist's fans: they claim that not all songs from the album "Michael" the real voice of the singer sounds. The intricate legal case is still pending in court. Even bigger problems are with Neverland Ranch's headline documentary: the heirs have been trying to sell it since 2015, its price has since dropped from $ 100 million to $ 67 million, and shortly before the film's premiere on HBO it was put up for sale for $ 31 million.
However, Jackson's heirs and fans are not the only critics of Leaving Neverland. Actor Corey Feldman, who became friends with the singer in the mid-eighties (Feldman was a teenager at the time), stated that neither he nor many of the children who lived on the Neverland Ranch (among them, for example, the star of the films "Home Alone" Macaulay Culkin, who later confirmed that his relationship with Jackson never had an abusive connotation), were never sexually abused by Jackson: “I can only speak for myself, and yes, I came across everything [what the characters of the film tell], except the part in which [featured] sex. From this moment, instead of Neverland, in my opinion, la-la-land begins. [Jackson] never swore in my presence, never touched me where you shouldn't, and never offered to become his lover!"
“I repeat, I was not with these boys. But I was there at the same time as Jimmy [Safechuck], and I saw a lot of children (including girls), many of whom I am still friends with. And he never sexually harassed any of us. These two men have the right to speak out and be heard, but the same right has a thousand other children who were there and did not agree [with what the heroes of the film claim]! " According to Feldman, Safechak and Robson still cannot forgive Jackson that he “abandoned them” (which is typical, earlier he himself admitted that he was offended by the artist for the same reason).
According to the director, “Leaving Neverland” was not meant to be “a film about Michael Jackson,” but tells a universal story of how children become victims of manipulation.
Many commentators, including Feldman, point out that Leaving Neverland suffers from one-sidedness and presents only one version of events. “Leaving Neverland is a very bad documentary from a storytelling point of view,” writes director Gabriel Torreyes. - I am always in favor of listening to the stories of people who have experienced abuse.I'm always on their side, but when it comes to the main superstar in history and the deceased, I hope to see a deeper investigation."
Responding to accusations of bias and hack, director Dan Reid said he and his team had "done enough work" and initially treated Robson and Safechak's stories with "a lot of skepticism." However, after examining police records and court records in both cases, they "found nothing to contradict the stories of Wade and James - and quite a lot to support them."
In addition, according to the director, Leaving Neverland was not meant to be “a film about Michael Jackson,” but tells a universal story of how children become victims of manipulation: “We usually imagine rapist pedophiles as people who grab children on the streets.” Reed insists that the evidence from Safechuck and Robson can help people better understand the abuser's behavior patterns. “If we start telling this much bigger story, it doesn't matter who the person you trust enough to leave your children with him - Michael Jackson, a priest, a neighbor, an uncle, or an adored family friend.”
Reed is definitely being disingenuous: Leaving Neverland is still a film about Jackson, not an abstract uncle, and that is why the statements made in it made such a splash. And although the tape does not directly ask “What to do with the cultural heritage of the artist in the light of the new accusations?”, This question is inevitable.
BBC officials have already denied British media reports that they will remove all of Jackson's songs from the air. “We don't ban artists. We evaluate each piece of music separately, and the decisions on which of our channels to put which music are based on the context and the relevant audience. " A similar decision was made by Cumulus Media: one of the largest American broadcasting companies, which includes more than four hundred radio stations, said that it does not interfere with the programming policy of its wards. At the same time, three major radio stations in the Canadian province of Quebec announced that they would stop broadcasting Jackson's songs, citing the reaction of listeners.
“New compelling accusations against Jackson will undoubtedly lead to new calls for his music to be treated like [Gary] Glitter's. (singer convicted of sexual assault and possession of child pornography - Approx. ed.) - secretly banned on radio and television, did not mention it publicly … And I understand why - but I don't think it will happen, - music critic Alexis Petridis comments on the situation. - Jackson is not so easy to erase from history, too many people have too much in their lives connected with his music. And you probably don't need to wash anything. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with his music still playing. Provided that it serves as a reminder to us that terrible people can be behind great art, that talent can be used for the most disgusting purposes, and that it is a terrible mistake to believe that the artist embodies good by default, and its consequences can be monstrous."