At times “Leaving Neverland” has you shaking your head in sorrow as you hear the graphic memories of two men who claim to have been sexually abused by Michael Jackson when they were children.
At times “Leaving Neverland” has you practically shouting at the screen, as you want to ask the parents of these men: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WHEN YOU ALLOWED YOUR SON TO SLEEP IN THE SAME ROOM WITH A GROWN MAN!
And at times “Leaving Neverland” has you wondering why the filmmakers didn’t reach out to someone from Jackson’s camp — attorneys, relatives, former band mates, tour organizers, managers, employees at Neverland Ranch, publicists, etc., etc. — to ask if they had ever seen anything suspicious and/or to get a response to the allegations.
The Jackson estate DID send a 10-page letter to HBO, complaining about not being asked to participate in the two-part, four-hour documentary (which premieres on March 3), claiming the film doesn’t meet HBO’s standards and requesting the movie be shelved.
That’s not happening. HBO’s response read in part, “Our plans remain unchanged. … People should reserve judgment until they see the film.”
Having seen the devastating and undeniably persuasive film, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty Jackson molested the alleged victims — but at the very least, the VERY least, we’re reminded of how bizarre it was for this man to have cultivated such close relationships with a number of boys, even as his legions of fans and his supporters rationalized it by saying Jackson was just like Peter Pan and he had the soul of a child and he was an innocent who didn’t want to grow up.
What a load of … nonsense.
“Leaving Neverland” features extensive interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two thoughtful, articulate, intelligent and clearly still shaken men in their late 30s who tell separate but chillingly similar tales of how they were brought into the King of Pop’s world when they were just children, and how the magical times of sharing the stage with Jackson and becoming his “friend” gradually turned into something horrific and monstrous and unspeakable.
When Safechuck was 9 years old, he was featured in a Pepsi commercial with Jackson. In the ad, the boy is wandering around backstage and enters Jackson’s dressing room. He regards Jackson’s hat and glasses, etc., with awe, at which point a smiling Jackson enters the dressing room and says, “Looking for me?”
Geez. Even that’s kind of creepy.
A year later, 10-year-old Jimmy Safechuck was on tour with Jackson, his star-struck mother along for the ride.
Safechuck’s mother talks about a vacation to Hawaii, and how she kept her distance from Jackson and her son because she wanted her son to have a good time. However, she drew the line at Jimmy staying in Jackson’s room because “I didn’t think it was appropriate for my son to go to sleep with him.”
When Jimmy wasn’t on tour with Jackson, “My son would be on the phone for hours with Michael. Hours.”
Eventually, Jimmy’s parents DID allow her son to share a room with Jackson: “It seemed like a natural thing…when Mom and Dad said, ‘Yes, you can go sleep with Michael.’ ”
As Safechuck relates, it was anything BUT natural. He details the moment in Paris when Jackson introduced him to masturbation, and later recounts how the alleged abuse became more intense as he got older.
Wade Robson won a Michael Jackson dance contest at a store near his home in Brisbane, Australia, which led to Jackson inviting Robson to join him onstage for his next concert — and eventually Robson’s family moving to Los Angeles so young Wade could be close to his new best friend Michael Jackson.
In compelling fashion, Robson recounts how Jackson allegedly molested him on numerous occasions.
Both men talk about how Jackson continually told them to never breathe a word of their “special” relationships to anyone, as it would ruin their lives. Both men acknowledge that in the past they’ve told authorities under oath Jackson didn’t molest them. Both men explain why it took decades for them to state their truths — to themselves, to their families and to the world.
There’s no video or audio evidence of actual crimes, but even old news footage of Jackson holding hands with various little boys as they dash from hotel to limo while the press snaps photos and fans go wild is weird and troubling. When these kids were on tour with Jackson, all that meant was they’d join him onstage for a number or two. Why in the world was he holding hands with them in public, sending them faxes, giving them gifts, taking them and their families on trips?
In 1993, a man named Evan Chandler accused Jackson of molesting his 13-year-old son. Jackson reached a financial settlement with Chandler’s family.
In 2005, a jury found Michael Jackson not guilty on multiple counts of child molestation brought against him.
Jackson died in 2009. In the years since then, his family and friends and countless fans have vigorously defended his name and have called all allegations against him without merit.
At times “Leaving Neverland” feels more like a deposition than a documentary, given we’re hearing from only one side, again and again.
But Lord does that side present a convincing case.