Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

All you need to know about “Leaving Neverland”

All you need to know about “Leaving Neverland”

Why the documentary could destroy the King of Pop’s reputation for ever

Why the documentary could destroy the King of Pop’s reputation for ever

Tim Smith-Laing | March 8th 2019

“How do you explain Michael Jackson?” This is just one of the many unanswerable questions posed during the nearly four hours of “Leaving Neverland”. The documentary, directed by Dan Reed, in which two men recount the abuse they say they received at Jackson’s hands when they were children, might not explain the King of Pop, but it does threaten to destroy his reputation for ever. Despite denials from both the singer’s estate and disbelief among his biggest fans, radio stations across the world have already begun pulling his music from their playlists. Even if you have only ever been a casual listener to Jacko’s songs, the film is a must-watch inquiry into the nature of fame, abuse and the lives of victims.

Who are the accusers?

The men at the centre of “Leaving Neverland” are James Safechuck and Wade Robson. Safechuck was 10 when he first met Jackson, after performing in a Pepsi advert that featured the star. Jackson befriended him, and later sent a film crew round to the Safechucks’ house. It was, said Safechuck, “almost like an audition. Jackson became a family friend and soon showered Safechucks with affection. He seemed so lonely and childlike that Safechuck’s mother Stephane “came to feel like he was one of [her] sons”. Safechuck toured as a dancer with Jackson.

Wade Robson meets Michael Jackson for the first time

Wade Robson is a dancer and choreographer who has worked with stars including Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. He met Jackson when he was just five, after winning a dance competition in which meeting the singer was first prize. Jackson stayed in contact with Robson, his sister Chantal, and their mother, Joy, and it wasn’t long before the family visited Neverland, Jackson’s ranch in California. Joy eventually moved to LA with Robson and Chantal (and without her husband or their elder son), in order to pursue the opportunities Jackson had offered to create for their family. Robson went on to dance in three of the singer’s videos.

What do they say happened?

Safechuck states that Jackson initiated a sexual relationship with him shortly after they met, and that it continued until he was 14. Robson states that the abuse started when he was seven and continued until he too was 14. Both recall that they were later sidelined in favour of other boys.

Jackson and James Safechuck

Jackson used both his superstar status and evident loneliness to inveigle his way into the two families’ lives and gain their trust in order to spend large amounts of time alone with their children. Both Wade and Safechuck recount in detail the physical acts Jackson performed with them, and made them perform on him, including masturbation, oral sex, and, later, attempted anal sex. At the beginning, Safechuck states, Jackson normalised these things as “something that everybody does”, while simultaneously making clear to both of them that his and their lives would be over if anyone ever found out. He “ran drills” in how to dress quickly if they heard anyone about to walk in on them, Safechuck recalls, because if they did, “He, and I, would go to jail for the rest of our lives”.

What is most striking, though, is the way in which both men describe themselves as having been “in love” and “infatuated with him” at the time. Safechuck describes himself and Jackson as “like this married couple”. The two even had a mock ceremony in which Jackson gave him a ring – one of several gifts from the singer that Safechuck shows in the film, his hands visibly shaking as he holds it.

Why didn’t they come forward earlier?

Accusations of child abuse dogged Michael Jackson from the moment that the LAPD launched an investigation into claims by 12-year-old Jordy Chandler in 1993. Jackson settled out of court with the family for $22m in 1994, months before the LAPD case collapsed. Wade Robson was one of Jackson’s “friends” who came forward publicly to help sink the Chandler case. He would do so again when further allegations, from Gavin Arvizo, who had been a 13-year-old cancer patient at the time he claims Jackson abused him, came to trial in 2005.

Jackson at Safechuck’s house

In the documentary, Wade and Safechuck both discuss their reluctance to make the allegations earlier. Wade only broke his silence in 2013, four years after Jackson’s death, after experiencing a mental breakdown linked to the birth of his first child. Safechuck, who had a similar experience around the birth of his own child, states that he was prompted to tell his story after seeing Wade interviewed on TV.

Is it true?

Though Safechuck’s and Robsons’s stories haven’t been tested in court, it is hard to watch “Leaving Neverland” and not be convinced by the testimony of the two men and their families. Their personal relationships with Jackson are a matter of record, and though the accusations of sexual abuse remain, in the strictest sense, unproven, it is hard to see how anyone watching the film could doubt their veracity.

That said, this is a one-sided documentary: Wade, Safechuck and their families are the only voices we hear, and both the Jackson estate and Jackson’s fans have denied the accusations outright. Both accusers have said that they have received death threats from fans, while the Jackson estate is currently suing HBO for $100m for violating a 1992 contractual agreement to not “disparage” the singer. But the film itself is hardly a tabloid hit-job. Slow, patient and unsensationalistic, it sets out to show how child abuse maintains a grip over victims long after it occurs. It is, to say the least, persuasive.

Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me is available to watch on All 4 (UK) and Hulu and HBO (US)