Michael Jackson was and, despite both his death and this documentary, still is one of the biggest stars on the planet. However, his musical career has always been surrounded by the public’s obsession with his personal life. From his relationships with lovers, his own children and the recurring rumour of child sex abuse claims.
These allegations first came to light in the early 1990s, resurfaced again in mid-2000 and are back again in 2019. Dan Reed’s documentary, Leaving Neverland follows James Safechuck and Wade Robson as they describe their stories of how Jackson sexually abused them.
Both men recount how the ‘king of pop’ seemed to select a certain kind of child he liked and groom both them and their families – often by introducing them to a world they never would have experienced without him. This is a world where the world’s biggest pop star brings them up on stage, takes them on tour, phones them every day and pays for everything. Supposedly, Jackson became not only a friend of the family, but a part of the family itself. After gaining this trust, he sexually abused the children.
The accusations unfold through interviews with both Robson and Safechuck while found footage and audio recordings legitimise the claims.
The footage used helps us understand the details of the relationship: when, where, who, why and how Jackson came into contact with the two boys – this opens up the possibility that the abuse could definitely have happened. And clear time frames show the times Jackson could have been alone with the kids.
The phone calls are awkward and strange to listen to as we hear the manipulation in Jackson’s words in the form of ‘love’. In the recordings, we hear Jackson tell the children he loves them. In another (this time from a tape recorder), Robson performs a mock interview with Jackson while on tour. Throughout this recording, Jackson constantly, in one way or another, turns the conversation around to his admiration for Robson explaining how much he adores him.
The disconcerting part (which is saying something, because the entire doc is disturbing) are the interviews. Both Robson and Safechuck sit and tell their stories in a frank and candid way, suggesting there’s no confusion whatsoever to what happened. They start off by telling us of their first encounters with MJ, but as the stories go on and the abuse starts, it becomes near unwatchable. The detail in which the men go into and the raw emotion shown during the interviews make for some unpleasant viewing.
Overall, Leaving Neverland is a skilfully-made documentary, but the importance of the subject matter promised high traction for the film in spite of its quality. While it doesn’t offer much in the way of hard evidence that would incriminate Jackson completely, the corroboration of the two main subject’s separate stories (as well as their family members who are interviewed), is damning.
The strong undertones and implications the evidence offers and the raw emotion and vulnerability in which the stories are told leaves very little room for scepticism.