Leaving Neverland is a new documentary which aims to expose Michael Jackson as a manipulator and child sexual abuser.
The film features graphic accounts from Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who allege they were groomed and sexually abused by Jackson from the ages of seven and ten, respectively, with much of the abuse alleged to have happened at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in California.
Leaving Neverland airs in two 90-minute episodes over two consecutive nights at 9pm on Wednesday 6th andpart two following on Thursday 7th March on Channel 4.
In the US, the film has already aired, broadcast on Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th March on HBO at 8-10pm ET/PT. Following part two, Oprah Winfrey conducted a TV interview – titled After Neverland – with the documentary’s two accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck.
While the Channel 4 version is three hours long to leave space for adverts, the HBO release had a running time of four hours. Channel 4 has not yet announced plans to broadcast After Neverland.
Leaving Neverland features detailed and graphic accounts from two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege that Michael Jackson sexually abused them when they were children.
It tells two separate stories, from the perspective of the two boys and their families, beginning with how each first came to meet the King of Pop. The film then examines the alleged grooming and abuse of the boys by the singer over many years, and attempts to explain why, for a long period of time, Robson and Safechuck denied any sexual misconduct on Jackson’s part.
The documentary concludes with their reactions to the singer’s death, and their decision to go public with the allegations and how their lives have changed since then.
Wade Robson and his wife at Jackson’s 2005 trial (Getty)
Who made Leaving Neverland?
Leaving Neverland is made by Bafta-winning British director Dan Reed, who has had a prolific career with documentaries including Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks, The Paedophile Hunter, Terror at the Mall, Dispatches: The Battle for Haiti, and Terror in Mumbai.
Speaking about the conception of Leaving Neverland, Reed recalls how he and then-Channel 4 commissioning editor Daniel Pearl “were talking about the big stories out there in the world which weren’t quite resolved and people sort of knew but didn’t really know the answer to, and Michael Jackson was one of them.”
Dan Reed at the Leaving Neverland premiere (Getty)
Who appears in Leaving Neverland?
Wade Robson and James Safechuck are the two people at the centre of the documentary. The film also includes appearances from Robson’s siblings, mother and wife, as well as Safechuck’s mother and wife.
In interviews with the boys’ mothers, Joy Robson and Stephanie Safechuck, the two women question their own decisions to let their sons sleep in Jackson’s bedroom for long periods of time. At one point, Stephanie Safechuck says: “I f***ed up. I failed to protect him.”
“The bravest thing in the film was the mothers coming forward, admitting what happened,” says Reed.
Wade Robson’s sister Chantal and mother Joy at Jackson’s 2005 trial (Getty)
Explaining how they were totally beguiled by Jackson, his fame, and the access he gave them, Reed adds: “You see Stephanie’s face light up when she talks about meeting Harrison Ford and the champagne and all this stuff, they’re still split between all the good things that happened through their relationship with Michael Jackson.”
Only members of the two families are interviewed in the documentary, but archival footage and photographs feature Jackson himself, his lawyers, actor Macaulay Culkin and Jackson’s former wife Lisa Marie Presley, among others.
Who are Wade Robson and James Safechuck and what are they accusing Michael Jackson of?
Michael Jackson and Wade Robson (C4)
Wade Robson was living in Australia when he met Jackson after winning a dance competition. He claims to have been sexually abused by the singer between the ages of seven and 14.
James Safechuck met Jackson when they filmed a Pepsi advert together, and alleges that the singer sexually abused him from the age of ten.
Both men have previously testified in Jackson’s defence in court, when other allegations were brought against the singer (both testified during his 1993 case and Robson again appeared in court as part of his defence in 2005), but it wasn’t until Robson had a son that he felt compelled to confront his experiences of abuse and go public in 2013. Safechuck did the same a year later.
Robson went on to become a successful choreographer who worked with Britney Spears, N-Sync and many more, while Safechuck, a former musician, is now a computer programmer.
Safechuck and Robson both allege that Jackson abused them in his various homes, including at the Neverland Ranch in California.
What is the Neverland Ranch?
Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch (Getty)
The Neverland Ranch was Jackson’s home and private amusement park, and was named after the imaginary island in Peter Pan. The sprawling estate had a cinema, tepees, a swimming pool and much more.
In 2003, police raided Neverland Ranch while investigating charges of child molestation that had been brought against Jackson.
What has the Michael Jackson Estate said about the Leaving Neverland film?
After HBO announced Leaving Neverland’s premiere date, the Michael Jackson Estate sent a ten-page letter to the broadcaster’s CEO denouncing the film and branding it as “one-sided” and “sensationalist”.
The estate also labelled Leaving Neverland a “disgrace”, saying: “The fact that HBO and its producing partners did not even deign to reach out to any of these people to explore the credibility of the false stories Robson and Safechuck told violates all norms and ethics in documentary filmmaking and journalism. It is a disgrace.”
In response to the letter, HBO said in a statement: “Our plans remain unchanged. The two-part documentary, Leaving Neverland will air as scheduled on Sunday, March 3rd and Monday, March 4th. Dan Reed is an award-winning filmmaker who has carefully documented these survivors’ accounts. People should reserve judgment until they see the film.”
Is there a trailer for Leaving Neverland?
Yes there is. Here you go…
Who has accused Michael Jackson of child sexual abuse over the years?
Jackson has been publicly accused by five people of child sexual abuse.
The first allegation came in 1993, when Evan Chandler accused Jackson of abusing his 13-year-old son Jordan. The case was settled outside court for a reported $23 million.
In 2005, Jackson was charged with abusing 13-year-old cancer survivor Gavin Arvizo. The singer was formally charged on nine counts – for child molestation and administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of committing a felony – and stood trial for ten (a further charge of conspiracy to abduct a child was later added). He was acquitted of all charges after a trial lasting several months.
During the 2005 trial, Jason Francia, the son of Jackson’s housekeeper testified that Jackson had abused him when he was a child.
Michael Jackson waves to fans after he is found not guilty at his 2005 trial (Getty)
In 2013, Wade Robson, who had testified in defence of Jackson during the 2005 trial, alleged sexual abuse.
And finally in 2014, James Safechuck filed claims against the Michael Jackson Estate, alleging sexual abuse.
Did Wade Robson and James Safechuck know each other before Leaving Neverland was filmed?
“Wade and James met for the first time during the Jackson years,” explains Reed. “While Jackson was alive, when they were kids, their paths crossed. I don’t think they spent much time together or chatted much.
“The first time they met after that was in 2014 when they met at the law firm Wade had gone to to make his claim against the estate. When James joined that case they met at the offices of the lawyer… then had no further contact whatsoever by phone, email or anything until the day before [Leaving Neverland’s] Sundance screening [in 2019].
“So Sundance was the first time they met properly as adults and hung out together and spent some time together. They get on really well, and they get each other. It’s been a delight to watch and very emotional for them as well.”
Reed says Jackson’s image of himself as a Peter Pan character who loved to surround himself with children and bask in their innocence was “disguising something that was very different”.
“He was very manipulative, very deliberate in his grooming and in his sexual activities with these children that took place over many, many years.”
The director predicts more people have shared Robson and Safechuck’s experiences of abuse by Jackson – although he’s unsure whether they will go public after seeing the documentary.
“I don’t think Wade and James can be the only ones because Jordan and Gavin have come out in public and also the son of Jackson’s chambermaid Jason Francia has gone public, and I believe there are many more,” said the director.
“Will they come out or not? I don’t know, it’s something that people will do in their own time… I’m not interested in outing anyone or compelling anyone to come forward if they’re not ready.”
On whether Jackson’s music should be boycotted, Reed adds: “I wouldn’t get behind a campaign to ban his music, I don’t think that makes any sense. Is this a time to celebrate Michael Jackson? I don’t think so.
“I think it’s a time to acknowledge the man he was and he’s also a brilliant entertainer. Maybe those things one day can fit together in people’s minds but there’s going to be a period of reevaluation of who he was and then, of course, of his work as well.”
Are the views of Jackson’s family and supporters represented in Leaving Neverland?
While Reed did not interview Jackson’s family, lawyers or fans for the documentary, he says their views are represented through archival footage within the film.
“You can see how much space we’ve devoted to Jackson’s rebuttals and his lawyers’ rebuttals at the time when there were allegations made against him in court and in the media,” explains the director.
“I think we’ve devoted ample time to that and ample time to people who, when Wade came out in 2013, were very sceptical and denigrated him and generally said unkind and sceptical things about him. I think we’ve represented the response of the Jackson camp.
“To my knowledge, the estate hasn’t changed its view since 2005 when the criminal case finished, so they still maintain that Jackson was not a paedophile and that’s the point of view we’ve represented in our film.”
What has been the backlash from Michael Jackson’s fans?
Michael Jackson signs autographs for fans (Getty)
Michael Jackson fans protested at the screening of Leaving Neverland at 2019’s Sundance festival, and Reed has also described the backlash he has received on social media.
“My message to them? Leave me alone,” he laughs.
“We’ve had probably thousands of emails and there’s been a lot of stuff on Twitter as you’d expect, there are probably tens of millions of Jackson fans out there… Anyone who’s stood up in favour of the film has been deluged with abuse.
“That’s coming from a tiny minority of Jackson fans and I call them the MJ cultists, they’re part of the MJ cult, they’re uncompromising, they won’t listen and their knee jerk reaction has been to denigrate and hurl abuse at children who were raped by Michael Jackson, and I don’t think that’s a very good look. Especially in 2019…
“No one’s surprised by the virulence of the response, but we have to put it in context. The victim is not Jackson. The victims in this case are Wade and James and we should take time to listen to their stories before trying to shut them down.”
Are there any other documentaries about Michael Jackson coming up?
Using a group of contributors – no names confirmed yet – the film will attempt to “unpick the circumstances, controversies and accusations that continue to surround him today in an attempt to better understand the rise and fall of the pop superstar”.
Peretti has made three previous films on Jackson but it remains to be seen how his latest BBC release will hold up against the claims made in Leaving Neverland.
Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me airs at 9pm on Wednesday 6th and Thursday 7th March on Channel 4