Last night, HBO debuted the first part of Leaving Neverland, a new documentary centered around two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who have accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them when they were boys. The film has pitted Jackson family members and fans eager to discredit the men against those aghast that a someone with such a troubling pattern of behavior is still widely celebrated.
Writing for Variety, Owen Gleiberman called the documentary “devastating” and says that Robson and Safechuck, whose interviews form the bulk of the first part of the film, speak with “disarming eloquence and self-possession.” Gleiberman calls their testimony is “overwhelmingly powerful and convincing.”
Elizabeth Harris in the New York Times was similarly affected. She says that the film “contains granular, disturbing detail that could reshape [Jackson’s] legacy for years to come.” She points to Safechuck listing all the places in Neverland where he and Jackson had sex and the similarity of sexual encounters described by both men — suggesting Jackson had a modus operandi as a predator — as particularly affecting.
The co-executors of Jackson’s estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO and its parent company, Time Warner, alleging that airing the documentary broke a nondisparagement clause in a 1992 contract the network signed to air a Jackson concert filmed in Romania.
The Jackson family has also launched a public relations campaign that seeks to protect the late singer’s reputation primarily by attacking Safechuck and Robeson.
Marlon Jackson, one of Michael’s brothers, outlined the family’s main argument in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Mr. Robson and Safechuck testified — and Wade Robson twice, once as an adult. And they said that Michael never did anything inappropriate to them. The story changes all the time. They’re still in a lawsuit with the Michael Jackson estate right now — it gets thrown out, they appeal it. It’s all about the money.”
That the boys testified on Jackson’s behalf is a common refrain from those seeking to discredit them now, along with their attempts to sue the estate for damages.
The Jackson family has also accused Dan Reed, the director of the film, of trusting Wade and Safechuck without verifying their stories or speaking to Jackson’s friends and family. On Twitter, his fans took a similar tact, mercilessly attacking the film as it aired.
Who knew that if you created a one-sided doc based on shock value and recycled false claims people would believe you. The main reason this doc exists is because defamation laws do not apply to the dead. This is a slap in the face to real victims of sexual abuse. #leavingneverland
— kms (@pytdemo) March 4, 2019
This documetary is unethical. If this documentary was about truth how do they not interview Brett Barnes and Maculey Culkin. How do you include the name of kids that said they were not molested by Michael Jackson? #leavingneverland
— Johnny Lambert (@JohnnyLambert6) March 4, 2019
Others believed the men and reacted with horror at Jackson’s conduct, that the mothers of the boys failed to protect them, and that Jackson’s fans would continue to support him.
#LeavingNeverland Ugh, I hate to say it but from wat these victims are describing & remembering about their experiences with #MichaelJackson he clearly groomed them for sexual abuse & since they were minors…this was pedophilia. Sick, just sick.
— Kelly ???? (@kbal3259) March 4, 2019
who would leave a seven – yes 7 – year old boy with a grown man – makes no sense to me as a mom –
— ROSIE (@Rosie) March 4, 2019
The debate will continue tonight when part two of the documentary airs. The whole thing is also available to stream now on HBO Go and HBO Now.