It’s been almost a decade since Michael Jackson’s death. The King of Pop’s legacy has long been shadowed by questions about his close relationships with young boys. And a recent documentary sheds troubling light on the singer’s dark side.
Leaving Neverland, the four-hour, two-part HBO documentary, covers detailed interviews with two alleged victims. Wade Robson and James Safechuck both fell into Jackson’s sphere as young boys. Safechuck, then eight years old, appeared alongside Jackson in a Pepsi commercial. Robson attracted the singer’s attention – and affections – after winning a Michael Jackson dance contest.
Both men, now in their 30s, tell similar stories of a troubling pattern of abuse: Jackson befriended them and their families, groomed them, lured them and their families closer, and sexually abused them for years. In what one reviewer described as an awful “deluge,” both provide disturbingly detailed accounts of the sexual abuse. Both explain how even their mothers fell under Jackson’s spell, eventually agreeing to let their sons have “sleepovers” with a grown man. And they explain how Jackson emotionally manipulated them, threatening them into silence and even pressuring them to come to his defense when he later faced accusations of child molestation.
Part II explores the lasting effect of the abuse on both men and the complex factors that led them to deny, for years, that anything was amiss. Both previously denied, under oath, that any sexual abuse occurred. Robson even testified in Jackson’s defense at the singer’s 2005 trial on charges of child molestation, helping him secure an acquittal. Only years later, after suffering from chronic mental health problems and having children of their own, did they decide to speak up.
Despite the damning allegations against Jackson, many of his fans still defend him. After all, Jackson’s no longer around to defend himself. And some have raised doubts about the credibility of the accusers – and their financial motives. While neither received compensation for the documentary, both have sued Jackson’s estate, and those lawsuits are still under appeal. Robson also tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a book deal about the abuse.
Since the documentary’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, public backlash been fierce – and reminiscent of that against R. Kelly in the wake of a similar documentary. Sales of Michael Jackson’s music have plummeted. The Simpsons creators have shelved episodes featuring Jackson. And even some radio stations have announced they won’t play his music anymore.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s estate has emphatically proclaimed the singer’s innocence. The estate also filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO, claiming the network breached a non-disparagement clause in a decades-old contract with the singer.