Leaving Neverland, a four-hour documentary about Michael Jackson and the sexual abuse allegations against him, premiered at Sundance Film Festival yesterday.
The film details two boys’ accounts of the long-term relationships they claim to have had with the late pop star. James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who are now in their 30s, both say they were sexually abused by Jackson in the 1990s.
Both men are interviewed in Leaving Neverland, alongside both of their mothers. “Love notes” and audio messages that Jackson sent to them are also used in the film.
Reporters present at the premiere have begun sharing details of the documentary on social media. TMZ reports that it is split into two parts, with one exploring the allegations made by Safechuck and Robson, and the other looking at the legal case Jackson faced over the claims.
Other particulars described in the film include Jackson having “alarms go off so the boys knew to put clothes on when people would approach at Neverland” and a mock wedding between the star and a then-nine-year-old Safechunk. He said that Jackson gave him a wedding certificate and a ring to represent “their undying love”.
Among the many, many disturbing revelations of #LeavingNeverland: MJ gave one of his young male victims jewelry in exchange for sexual acts, and even staged a mock wedding complete with vows and diamond ring. #Sundance2019
— Patrick Ryan (@PatRyanWrites) January 25, 2019
Robson also discusses in the film why he testified on Jackson’s behalf in 2005, during a trial which saw the pop singer facing seven counts of child molestation (Jackson was later acquitted). At the time, Robson had said in court he had spent the night at Neverland more than 20 times and shared a bed with Jackson, the star had never molested him.
In Leaving Neverland, Robson says he felt pressured to do so after Jackson allegedly threatened him, leaving him “scared of the repercussions. Robson and Safechuck both brought civil suits against the Jackson Estate following Jackson’s death, but both were thrown out in 2017 by a judge who ruled that the Estate could not be held liable for the singer’s behaviour.
Attendees report that the festival enlisted mental health counsellors for audience members who were upset or affected by the film’s content. You can see some reactions from those who attended the screening below.
Feel sick to my stomach after watching Part 1 of #LeavingNeverland doc. Michael Jackson witnesses/sex abuse victims coming off very credible. It’s so sexually explicit that counselors are in the lobby. #SundanceFilmFestival2019
— Mara Reinstein (@MaraReinstein) January 25, 2019
#Sundance has provided health care professionals in the theater for audience members potentially upset by #LeavingNeverland’s explicit descriptions of sexual abuse against underage boys. They are in the wings ready with counsel.
— Matt Donnelly (@MattDonnelly) January 25, 2019
The Jackson Estate issued a statement on Leaving Neverland ahead of the film’s premiere, calling it “another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.” “Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them,” it continued. “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,” the statement continues. “It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Deadline reports that Safechuck said he and Robson were never offered any money for participating in the documentary. “This was really just trying to tell the story,” he said, explaining he wanted to “shine a light” on the sexual abuse of children.
Leaving Neverland will be broadcast on Channel 4 later this year.
Earlier today, it was reported that Jackson’s nephew is raising funds to release a documentary series that aims to “tell the truth” about the late pop star.
Taj Jackson says that his “explosive” series will reveal how his uncle was “betrayed, entrapped, and extorted” throughout his life. The project will dispute what Taj says are unsubstantiated posthumous abuse allegations against his uncle surrounding his relationships with children.