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 UK TV.
When will Leaving Neverland air on UK television?
The two-part documentary, Leaving Neverland will air on Channel 4 on Wednesday 6th and 7th of March at 9pm.
What is Leaving Neverland about?
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 has the reaction to Leaving Neverland been like?
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.
What have Michael Jackson’s estate said about Leaving Neverland?
Michael 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.”
Reed responded, saying that “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.”
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.”