Like countless others, I revered the name of Michael Jackson. How can you not? The King of Pop was a legend in every sense of the word. I admit, I have been aware of the controversies that surrounded his legacy. He was first accused of sexual abuse by the family of 13-year-old Jordy Chandler in 1993. According to NME, “The case was settled outside of court, and no criminal charges were filed. A decade later, in 2005, he was found Not Guilty by a jury in regards to allegations of sexual abuse of another 13-year-old, Gavin Arvizo.”
And truth be told, just like others, I was deep in denial too. “He was just a curious character, that’s why it’s hard to understand him,” I thought. “These type of lies and myths surrounding him are inevitable.” Anything to convince me that he was a genius I can look up to without guilt.
The latest documentary Leaving Neverland, however, is enough to make me finally face the gravity of the allegations thrown at him, and ultimately, reevaluate my support for him.
The two-part series tells the story of Wade Robson and James Safechuck. The two men, now in their 30s, made separate claims of experiencing sexual abuse under the hands of the singer, which they said began in the 1990s, when they were aged seven and 10, respectively
Wade first met MJ when he was just five. He won a dance competition where he impersonated the singer, and the prize included tickets to his concert and a meet-and-greet. Two years later, he claimed the abuse started. It’s important to note that Wade was a witness for Michael in the 2005 trial. His statements were reportedly helpful in acquitting the singer. He later revealed that he lied under oath, and that he decided to open up to a therapist after two “nervous breakdowns” and the birth of his child. “It was just pain and disgust and anger, the idea something like that could happen to my son,” he said. In 2013, he filed a lawsuit against Jackson’s estate, but it was dismissed because too much time has passed.
Meanwhile, James said he first met the singer at a Pepsi commercial where he starred when he was eight-years-old. Out writer Tre’vell Anderson, who were among the first to watch the docu at Sundance, details: “Following the shoot, the two developed a close relationship, with Jackson calling Safechuck on the phone from his tour stops.” He says the abuse started shortly after. Furthermore, NME wrote that James alleges “there were several rooms in Jackson’s Neverland ranch that were used to molest him, including “locked” boxes which featured one-way glass [and] that the pair practiced several “drills” to redress quickly in case interrupted.
As Vulture noted, there were also a lot of parallel in Wade and James’ individual testimonies, like how they claimed Michael manipulated them into believing they were in love and “meant to be,” and how he introduced them to masturbation and hardcore porn.
Jackson’s estate remain firm in condemning the documentary, accusing it as “yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.” Their official statement further read, “This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
The world is now divided on who to believe. There were those who saw the film as an eye-opener and sided with the accusers, including celebrities like Oprah. After she interviewed the two men in a special broadcast, the host, who was herself a sexual assault survivor, was bashed by Jackson’s fans—something she already anticipated.
Feel sick to my stomach after watching Part 1 of #LeavingNeverland doc. Michael Jackson witnesses/sex abuse victims coming off very credible. It’s so sexually explicit that counselors are in the lobby. #SundanceFilmFestival2019
Clearly, many fans choose to remain loyal, and have made it their mission to protect Michael’s name. They called the series a “mockumentary” and attacked the integrity of the accusers. Wade even revealed that he received death threats.
#MJFam: Here’s our 2 step plan for the week of March 3rd ‒ March 10th.
1) Flood the #LeavingNeverland hashtag with rational tweets including the FACTS about the allegations!
Just saw this #LeavingNeverland documentary. As a professional filmmaker, is easy to detect that it’s more a mockumentary than a proper impartial documentary. Couldn’t believe a word of the both “victims”. Bad acting. At times, shameful. Directing and script was even worse. 1/10
Ok, this Leaving Neverland fiasco is a big SCAM! These dudes are pathological lying comedians. I can’t believe Oprah jumped on board with this bull shit! HBO you got got. Oprah what kind of journalist are you, should’ve done your research. https://t.co/e4rolXrxnY
The difference in response is expected. Stan culture, where fans see their idol close to a god, and therefore can do no wrong, is very much prevalent. But then with the rise of movements such as #MeToo, we learn to be more discerning of these types of cases. I would include myself in the latter. Though I recognize the genius of Michael, I know all too well it’s highly possible he could have used his power and influence to do something sinister.
“If there’s anything we’ve learned during this time in our history, it’s that sexual abuse is complicated, and survivors’ voices need to be listened to,” Leaving Neverland’s director, Dan Reed, said. “It took great courage for these two men to tell their stories and I have no question about their validity. I believe anyone who watches this film will see and feel the emotional toll on the men and their families and will appreciate the strength it takes to confront long-held secrets.”
True enough, it was reported that during its premiere at Sundance, audiences were notably shocked, and there were counselors on standby for people who were disturbed or traumatized by the film. But by the end of the film, Wade and James were met with a standing ovation.
Most people may not be ready for the film, especially for how it showed graphic portrayals of the alleged abuse. But one thing’s for sure: We’ll never listen to MJ songs the same way again.