Michael Jackson is one of the most talked-about celebrities of all time, with a career spanning decades from the Jackson 5 days of the 1970s up to his death in 2009.
Despite being the biggest name in music, he was also the focus of great controversy throughout his career, mainly for his close associations with children, which amounted to formal allegations of sexual misconduct and subsequent legal proceedings.
Although Michael Jackson was never convicted of a crime, the rumors followed the singer until his death. Now, those allegations are the focus of a new HBO documentary.
The first part of the much-anticipated “Leaving Neverland” documentary aired last night on HBO, and has made a huge impact already, with millions of people across social media expressing their opinions on the allegations of child abuse that surround the late singer.
The two-part film also joins the slew of TV documentaries that look back at major cultural touchstones of celebrity scandal or crime, including ones on R. Kelly, Lorena Bobbitt, Ted Bundy and O.J. Simpson.
The story is told by Wade Robson and James Safechuck, men now in their 30s and 40s, respectively. Both were young boys when the singer befriended them in the 1980s, and they both allege that the singer molested them for years, and used controlling behavior to cover his tracks.
The two men met Jackson years apart and on different continents, but both men offer disturbingly similar accounts that detail the manipulative process of a pedophile, the queasy emotional and physical intimacy between victim and abuser, and how his fame stopped him from being accountable.
The documentary touched many a raw nerve on social media, with many expressing that the documentary had backed up their previously-held opinions on Jackson.
It’s amazing how brainwashed MJ fans are even now. I believe Wade & Jimmy. MJ was not a saint or God he was a fallible human being just as capable of evil as anyone else. #LeavingNeverland
— 50 Shades of Harry (@dimplesofdoom) March 4, 2019
#LeavingNeverland my whole heart breaks for these boys (they were at the time) they trusted whole heartily. The innocence of childhood was preyed upon by a very skilled predator! You can see I these faces they are speaking the truth. The pain is real and forever
— MnJean (@TheRealMnJean) March 4, 2019
— J Pennie 🍁🍂🍁 (@penntoface) March 4, 2019
Executors of the Jackson estate, who declined to appear in the film, deny all the criminal allegations, and the estate is now suing the film’s producer and director, Dan Reed.
The men, both of whom are now fathers, said they were compelled to finally come forward to help other victims of childhood sexual abuse. Interestingly, the pair of them say that they struggle with their emotions regarding Jackson even today, with both saying that they loved him.
The film starts with Safechuck recalling meeting Jackson at the age of 9 on the set during a Pepsi commercial shoot in Los Angeles. The singer took a shine to the child actor, inviting him and his family to his Encino estate and eventually visiting their modest San Fernando home for dinner. “He was like my son,” said Safechuck’s mother of Jackson. “I even washed his clothes.”
According to the documentary narrative, the parents gradually let their guard down around Jackson, allowing their son to spend more and more time with Jackson alone, including going on tour with the singer, even allowing him to sleep in the same hotel bed with him.
Safechuck said the sexual advances started early on, as did Jackson’s proclamations that he loved him. Jackson even staged a secret, mock marriage, claims Safechuck, complete with a diamond-encrusted ring.
Safechuck shows the ring on camera now, and it’s so small it doesn’t fit over his first knuckle.
The Australian Robson was 5 when he met Jackson after winning a talent contest by performing tracks off “Bad” when he was a young dancer. By the time he was 7, he’d moved to L.A. with his family largely to be under the wing of Jackson, who was ostensibly helping his dancing career.
Neverland ranch near Santa Barbara was the staging area where Robson alleges Jackson wooed his family into staying, allowing the boy to spend more and more time with him alone at the “magical” compound.
Neither of the boys told their parents, or anyone else, what they alledge happened. In a chilling account, the pair said they were coached by Jackson on how to respond if anyone asked about their sexual behavior. It was training they said helped when they publicly defended Jackson during the first round of allegations against the singer. Allegedly, this was around the time that Jackson bought the Safechucks a new home.
As a former child actress, I can’t help but watch this documentary and think about how wrong it is for children to be put in the position of performing for the soul purpose of pleasing adults. It’s such a slippery, dangerous, often abusive slope. #LeavingNeverland
— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) March 4, 2019
Part 2 of the documentary airs tonight on HBO.