Warning: this article contains sensitive material of a sexual nature.
Since its Sundance premiere back on January 29th, the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland (directed by Dan Reed) has been a lightning rod of controversy. The people involved on both sides have been lobbying nonstop in the media to discredit one another. The documentary has finally been released to the public this week on HBO. We can now judge for ourselves and follow up on the question of whether the King of Pop was a pedophile.
Watching the documentary and follow-up interviews in full multiple times raised more questions than answers. To really understand the claims I ventured far into the story of predatory child manipulation. Since the defendant has been removed from the earth for ten years, at no time do I take the side of anyone in this article.
This last week has been filled with “he said, she said” allegations from both sides, which played out on CBS This Morning with interviews coming from the director (Dan Reed), victims (Wade Robson and James Safechuck), and the Jackson Family (Nephew Taj, Brother Jackie, Marlon and Tito). Both sides tried to poke holes in the opposing stories.
The documentary begins with a very happy and friendly beginning. Both Wade Robson and James Safechuck share great childhood memories with Michael Jackson. Things quickly turn dark when they begin sharing how they were both molested by Jackson in their adolescent years. They shared how and when they met Micahel: Wade (7) after winning a dance competition in Brisbin, Australia, and James (10) on the set of a Pepsi commercial.
Instantly Michael took an interest in both the families and the children. The families reciprocated, blinded by the brightness that Michael possessed. The influence his name carried, and still carries today, is monumental. Think about how blinding it could be if a star like him knew your name and wanted to be around you. How would you react? This is where the trust started, even though meeting a celebrity is really no different than meeting a guy on the street. You feel like you know him through his music, much like we know the artist through interviews. But how well did you know the artist?
Friendship and “grooming” started instantly in both families cases. A unique aspect of both Wade and James’ stories was how both mothers in each family noticed how lonely Michael was. You’d think that a man of his stature would have no issues making friends, but both stories include many private trips with Michael and plenty of time at Neverland Ranch.
Neverland is a 2,700-acre ranch three hours north of Los Angeles (near Santa Babara) where Michael created a little boy paradise. The boys recall it having an arcade, movie theaters, unlimited junk food, petting zoo, amusement park, and a lot of bedrooms. In addition to the fictional sounding accommodations, they take you on a sexual tour of the property. Building by building, room by room, they share how and when everything happened in great detail.
James even recalls one night he and Michael had a pseudo-wedding ceremony. They wrote vows for another and told each other how much they loved one another. So much so that Michael gave James a wedding ring to symbolize the ceremony. Having an attraction to rings at that age (10), he gave him more rings as sexual exploratory rewards as their friendship continued.
Both Wade and James recall how Michael liked it when they rubbed his nipples and went to the corner of the bed on all fours, spreading their anal cheeks to help Michael finishing climaxing himself. They told of the game that was made out of how fast they could put their clothes if they heard someone coming.
Oddly, they described Michael as a completely nonviolent and loving man. At no time did either of them experience physical abuse during their sexual encounters. He always told the boys how he loved them and always described their relationship with either one them as “us.” The fear and trust were built with Michael in hopes of protecting one another. Michael told James and Wade that if anyone found out about “us” then “we would go to jail and the rest lives and our lives will be over.”
The love loyalty which had been groomed into Wade and James survived in them for years. Even when they got older and communication with Michael became more limited, they still had an endless loving passion for the pop star. When they saw Macaulay Culkin or Cory Feldman being intimate with Michael (both denied being sexually abused by Jackson), it created a form of jealousy between the boys. It felt as if Michael didn’t love them anymore and they felt like they would do anything to win him back. When allegations were brought against Michael in 1993 by Jordan Chandler, both James, and Wade protecting him with the utmost love and loyalty. The case was soon settled out of court for an undisclosed amount and communication dropped off again, restarting the depressing jealousy and mental torture.
Michael married a few times, had three children, and rarely communicated with the victims after the 1993 lawsuit. But he still had a few encounters. One graphic encounter included Michael attempting to penetrate Wade (then 14). It didn’t go smoothly, leading to a bloody ending. Wade had to dispose of some undergarments in fear Michael may get caught.
Communication dropped off again when the sexual abuse ended. Surprisingly, communication started again after Gavin Arvizio charged Michael with the sexual allegation in 2005. Michael reached out to James to help defend him, but he refused and told his mother “Michael is a bad man.” The conversation between them was kept secret for years.
Wade, then 22, then refused to defend Michael, but was soon subpoenaed and had to defend him. Seeing Michael and his three kids influenced him, as he didn’t want them to grow up without a father. Wade did not have a good relationship with his father, which led his father to commit suicide. He planned to protect Michael and take his secret to his grave. Wade defending Michael was potentially the deciding factor in his acquittal.
Michael died of cardiac arrest in 2009, but the story continued to live. It was not until 2013 that Wade came out about his abuse on national television. James saw it. Both of them came out because it was really affecting them mentally after having their own children. That’s what caused both of them to break their silence after 20 years.
The film and Wade and James’ stories have gone through quite the docket of abuse from the fans and Michael Jackson estate. On the night of the public premiere of Leaving Neverland, the estate released a two-hour performance of MJ Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour on Youtube to help draw attention away from the documentary and to help fuel their $100 million dollar lawsuit against the distribution company HBO. They also released a statement about its release (“Leaving Neverland violates a non-disparagement clause in a 1992 contract between Jackson and HBO over the rights to air the concert film Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour“).
Ironically for HBO and Michael, the live broadcast of the Bucharest concert was the highest rated HBO special (at the time) with 3.7 million tuning in to watch. Interestingly, the sexual allegations against Michael in ’93 caused the rest of the Dangerous Tour to be canceled.
Fans and critics have also attacked the director Dan Reed, saying that “The documentary is very one-sided.” Reed fired back in an interview with CBS This Morning, saying “It is not a film about Michael Jackson, it’s a story about Wade and James coming to terms with their molestation over two decades.”
Because they were alone with Jackson during the alleged assault, it’s hard to prove anything. Both of the victims confirmed that there weren’t any witnesses on an Oprah special, After Neverland. In defense of Reed, what could have the Jackson family or estate added to the story besides saying Michael’s guilty? According to Michael’s oldest brother (Jackie), “anyone that really knew him, (knew that) he would never be abuse a child.” No viewpoints would have changed.
Once the film premiered at Sundance, the Jackson family and estate came out defending Michael:
The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations, which means the entire film hinges solely on the word of two perjurers.
Again, Michael’s brothers and nephew came on CBS This Morning last week again claiming that “it’s all about money.” When anyone hears the name Michael Jackson all they think of is “a blank check.” In the victim’s defense, the family is claiming a hypothetical financial interest. Reed, however, claims that “they have no financial interest in my documentary and they are not being remunerated in any way, and neither are their families.”
The estate is attempting to draw attention away from the film and purport that those behind it are just trying and get money based on his name. This is despite the fact that back in 2013 both Wade and James filed sexual abuse allegations against Michael, and those cases were only dismissed because of a statute of limitations, both are appealing. According to Wade in the After Neverland interview, “the lawsuit was never about financial gain, it was the platform that had to be used so they (Jackson Estate) would pay attention.” Since the case was dismissed, the documentary was the next best option.
Whatever the case may be, both sides are going to be tied up in a court and “he said, she said” battle for a very long time.
Now that the smoke has settled, what do we know?
- Michael was a pop superstar whose estimated net worth (after his death) was $2.1 billion according to Forbes
- He had a very close relationship with multiple boys in his life.
- He was pictured multiple times holding hands with children
- He had slumber parties with children at Neverland Ranch on multiple occasions.
- Children stayed in the same bed as Michael during the nights they were present at Neverland Ranch and elsewhere.
- Both Macaulay Culkin and Cory Feldman denied sexual abuse allegations
- He had plenty of alone time with children.
- He was accused of sexual abuse allegations twice.
- James and Wade admitted they were sexually abused after 20 years of denial
Without a smoking gun, nothing can be proven. The truth died with Michael in 2009. The film takes us into a world which many may never see. Whether the stories are true or not, Wade and James take us on a detailed ride of what it’s like to be sexually abused. Even though at the time it may or may not have felt like abuse. The relationship between the abuser and the abused was eerie.
Reed spoke of “the deep attachment that formed between the abuser and the abused with this kind of grooming pedophile activity. Both Wade and James were in love with Michael even until the sexual activity stopped they continued loving him and was a close friend (with them), particularly with Wade, for many years.”
The love Wade and James had for Michael was limitless. Love has no bounds, and it was told to great detail in the film. Unfortunately, love and Michael’s stardom created a blindness to the potential bad things that occurred.
Whether it happened or not, Wade said it best on the CBS interview: “We can’t change what happened to us, it happened. It’s done, but what can we do with it now…(is) provide comfort for other survivors. That’s what this is about. Michael Jackson just happens to the guy, the abuser, in this child sexual abuse story.”