Release date, details and everything to know about the controversial film
This year has not been short of shocking music documentaries. Surviving R Kelly, an undercover expose of the R&B star’s alleged abuse of young women resulted in an almighty fallout, as well as possible criminal proceedings. Meanwhile, the competing Fyre Festival documentaries which chronicled the chaotic downfall of the infamous luxury music festival was a memeworthy, but sad expose of a manipulative businessmen.
Perhaps, the most controversial is yet to come. Earlier this year, Leaving Neverland, a feature-length documentary which included new allegations of sexual assault on minors by pop star Michael Jackson aired at Sundance Festival last month. It was deemed so shocking, that trained professionals were on hand at the premiere for audience members.
Here’s what we know about Leaving Neverland, and when it will air on TV.
When does Leaving Neverland air on TV?
In the UK, the two-part documentary, Leaving Neverland aired on Channel 4 on Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 March at 9pm. Both episodes are availble to watch on All 4 now.
It first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25 and was broadcast on HBO in the US on 3 and 4 March.
Can I watch Leaving Neverland online?
Is there a trailer for Leaving Neverland?
The first trailer released shows shots of Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, before we’re introduced to the allegations of the star made by both Wade Robson and James Safechuck. It can be viewed in full below.
What’s the plot of Leaving Neverland?
Warning: this article contains graphic content
In a synopsis for the documentary, British filmmaker Dan Reed says that “through gut-wrenching interviews with the now-adult men and their families, Leaving Neverland crafts a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception.”
In 1993, Jackson was first accused of sexual abuse by the family of 13-year-old Jordy Chandler. The case was settled outside of court, and no criminal charges were filed.
A decade later, in 2005, he was found Not Guilty by a jury in regards to allegations of sexual abuse of another 13-year-old, Gavin Arvizo.
The documentary features sexual abuse allegations against Jackson from Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who are both now in their 30s. They both make separate claims that the star molested them when they were children in the 1990s.
Wade Robson, a witness for Jackson in the 2005 child abuse trial in which the singer was acquitted, now claims that he lied under oath and that after two “nervous breakdowns” and the birth of his child, he decided to open up to his therapist.
“It was just pain and disgust and anger, the idea something like that could happen to my son,” Robson says. In 2013, he filed a lawsuit against Jackson’s estate, but a court dismissed the claim, saying he’d waited too long to file the complaint.
In the documentary, Robson claims that the abuse started when he was seven years old, two years after he first met Jackson. He goes on to allege that Michael Jackson attempted to anally penetrate him when he was 14-year-old. Robson then says that Jackson ordered him to throw away his “bloody” underwear.
James Safechuck, meanwhile, says that Jackson bought him several pieces of jewellery as a child – an interest of his – and even conducted a “mock wedding” ceremony between the pair. He also alleges that there were several rooms in Jackson’s Neverland ranch that were used to molest him, including “locked” boxes which featured one-way glass. Safechuck also alleges that the pair practiced several “drills” to redress quickly in case interrupted.
What have reviews said about Leaving Neverland?
Vulture called it “a radically empathetic film about the resonating impact of sexual abuse, as well as the personal and social forces that conspire to keep people from talking about it in public.” Newsday, meanwhile, described it as “a riveting story of childhood sexual abuse and its devastating effects on survivors and families.”
Slate wrote: “What makes Leaving Neverland an unusually sensitive portrait of abuse recovery is that it’s more interested in what was, rather than what should be.”
Elsewhere, The New York Times labelled Leaving Neverland as “not a feat of investigative journalism so much as an act of bearing witness”
However, Pitchfork were less positive about the documentary, describing it as “flawed” and adding: “Committed to accretion as an approach impossible to separate from its moral fervor, Leaving Neverland is a humdrum piece of filmmaking.”
When the film first aired at Sundance Film Festival in Utah, the response was one of shock. Reporter Adam B Vary said that it was a “thorough, devastating, deeply credible piece of filmmaking.” A film critic for US weekly said that the film left them “shaking”, and that both Robson and Safechuck received standing ovations at the film’s premiere.
How has the Michael Jackson Estate responded to Leaving Neverland?
Jackson’s estate have rigorously denied any wrongdoing by the star, who died in 2009. The family released a statement soon after its premiere saying, “Michael always turned the other cheek, and we have always turned the other cheek when people have gone after members of our family – that is the Jackson way.”
“But we can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on…Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made.”
Michael Jackson’s nephew, Taj, has started a crowdfunding campaign to produce a documentary that will prove the allegations wrong and that he was “betrayed, entrapped, and extorted.”
Appearing on CBS This Morning in late February, Jackson’s brothers Tito, Marlon, and Jackie, and his nephew Taj discussed the documentary and the claims featured in it.
Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the accusers at the centre of the film, say Jackson sent them “love letters”. Taj showed host Gayle King some of the notes he had received from his uncle, which featured sentiments of love and pride. “My uncle gave letters like that all the time to people that he cared about,” he explained. “There’s nothing salacious about it.”
He added that he “grew up” attending Jackson’s “sleepovers” with children. “For me, it wasn’t odd,” he said. “To the outside world, yes, I think it can be odd. I mean, I’m not oblivious to what it sounds like. But when you’re actually there in that atmosphere and you’re around it, and you’re watching movies with his kids, it’s very innocent.”
Taj described Jackson’s “naïveté” as “his downfall”, saying he “didn’t have that bone in his body to look at” the sleepovers in the same way as the rest of the world.
The family said they thought Robson and Safechuck were coming forward now because of “money”. They also said they hadn’t seen Leaving Neverland and would never watch it. However, they criticised director Dan Reed for not “verifying” the men’s claims with the family.
“I want them to understand and know that this documentary is not telling truth,” Marlon said when asked what they wanted to say about Jackson. “There has not been not one piece of evidence that corroborates their story.”
When asked if they shouldn’t see the documentary before disputing it, Jackie responded: “I don’t need to see the documentary. I know my brother. I know what he stood for, what he was all about – bringing the world together, making kids happy. The people that really know him, they know the truth too.”
Why are the Michael Jackson Estate suing HBO?
The Michael Jackson Estate is suing HBO for $100 million (£76.7 million) over the documentary, claiming that broadcasting Leaving Neverland violates a non-disparagement clause in a contract the network entered into with the star in 1992. The lawsuit states that when the channel aired Michael Jackson In Concert In Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour, it agreed to a clause that barred them from disparaging Jackson in any future programming.
The suit, which spans 53 pages, calls on HBO to take part in a public arbitration process and described the documentary as “a one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man who is no longer here to defend himself.”
Estate attorney Howard Weitzman told Deadline: “HBO could have and should have ensured that Leaving Neverland was properly sourced, fact-checked, and a fair and balanced representation.”
The lawsuit names HBO president Richard Plepler, who was senior vice-president of communications at the station in 1992, saying he “must have known, or should have known,” about the contract.
What have the filmmakers said?
Filmmaker Dan Reed responded to the controversy surrounding the film, and criticism from the Jackson Estate, saying: “I don’t seek to characterise him at all. I don’t comment on Jackson. It’s not a film about Michael. … The film itself is an account of sexual abuse, how sexual abuse happens and then how the consequences play out later in life.”
Reed has also said that he thinks more “victims” of Jackson’s alleged abuse will come forward following the film’s airing. Speaking to NME about Michael Jackson’s toxic legacy, Reed alleged that Jackson may have “sexually exploited a good many more” victims, saying that he thought Jackson used fame and “garish tabloid myths” to his advantage in order to conceal the truth.
Reed said: “Michael Jackson had unlimited power and unlimited wealth. Children looked up to him. And he exploited that to the hilt. In James’ and Wade’s cases, that sexual abuse lasted several years. I believe he sexually exploited a good many more little boys in his paedophile career.”
“I think [more] will [come out], eventually, yeah. As the Michael Jackson fans say: ‘lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons’. And that’s exactly what’s happening here. Sooner or later, it will come out.”
How has Channel 4 responded?
Following controversy over the doc, Channel 4 rejected complaints from Michael Jackson‘s estate and the late star’s fans, reiterating plans to air the two-part film. “Channel 4 viewers will make their own judgement about the testimony of the two victims interviewed in the film,” the broadcaster said.
Is there going to be a BBC documentary about Michael Jackson?
Yes. The BBC has announced that it will air its own documentary, Michael Jackson: The Rise and Fall, later in 2019. It will provide an overview of the star’s life, rather than focusing on the abuse allegations specifically.
Directed by Jacques Peretti, marking his fourth film on Jackson, it will reportedly trace his childhood in Gary, Indiana and continues all the way through to his final days as he prepared for the ‘This Is It’ concerts that never took place.
“Jacques Peretti has been one of the foremost critical commentators of Michael Jackson and his troubled life and legacy,” BBC controller Patrick Holland said.
“When he came to us over a year ago with the idea of reappraising him 10 years after his death, we were immediately taken with the project. We knew it would not shy away from the controversies that surround MJ and would be a thorough look at the many facets of his life that would help us try to understand what made him who he was.”