A new film set to show at Sundance has been denounced by the estate of Michael Jackson for documenting the stories of two of his sexual abuse accusers, ten years after his death.
The film, titled Leaving Neverland, will feature interviews with two now-adult men who claim they were victimised by the late Jackson, who died in June 2009, through ‘sustained exploitation and deception’.
But the Jackson estate is unhappy about the screening of the film, which the Sundance Film Festival dubbed ‘disarming’.
Leaving Neverland will narrate the story of two men now in their thirties who had long-running relationships with Jackson, aged seven and 10 respectively, when Jackson was at the height of his fame.
The film’s description reads:
As one of the world’s most celebrated icons, Michael Jackson represents many things to many people – a pop star, a humanitarian, a beloved idol.
When allegations of sexual abuse by Jackson involving young boys surfaced in 1993, many found it hard to believe that the King of Pop could be guilty of such unspeakable acts.
In separate but parallel stories that echo one another, two boys were each befriended by Jackson, who invited them into his singular and wondrous world.
Seduced by the singer’s fairy-tale existence and enthralled by their relationship with him, both boys’ families were blind to the manipulation and abuse that he would ultimately subject them to.
But, in a statement released to The Wrap on Wednesday 10 January, a rep from the Jackson estate denounced the film as ‘just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations.’
They continued to refute the documentary’s release and said it ‘is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.’
The film, titled Leaving Neverland after Jackson’s California ranch home, is in two parts and has a runtime of 233 minutes.
The description on the Sundance website concludes:
Through gut-wrenching interviews with the now-adult men and their families, Leaving Neverland crafts a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception, documenting the power of celebrity that allowed a revered figure to infiltrate the lives of starstruck children and their parents.
Under director Dan Reed, who previously helmed the documentaries The Pedophile Hunters and Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks, Leaving Neverland will receive its world premiere as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Events category.
Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges in a 2005 trial.
Choreographer Wade Robson, now 36, also filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against Jackson in 2013, claiming Jackson molested him when he was seven years old. That lawsuit was dismissed in December 2017.
The names of the Jackson accusers profiled in the documentary have not been released, but a photograph of Jackson and Robson was used in the promotional imagery for the film.
A rep for the estate said:
Wade Robson and James Safechuck [who was Jackson’s companion as a child and sued Jackson’s estate over sexual abuse claims] have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them.
Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception’, filed lawsuits against Michael’s estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.
This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.
The festival will present both episodes of the series, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence regarding the welfare of a child contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. If you are a child seeking advice and support call Childline for free on 0800 1111.