On Sunday night, the first part of Dan Reed’s four-hour documentary, Leaving Neverland, about two men claiming Michael Jackson sexually abused them as children, will air on HBO and it will drop like a bomb. For those who choose to watch it, and its graphic details are incredibly difficult and disturbing to listen to, nothing will be the same. It’s as convincing as a documentary can be.
The film focuses on both James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who were both sexually abused by Michael Jackson when they were children. Before this documentary, they had never shared their stories with each other, but their details about Jackson are eerily and disturbingly similar. What makes this more complicated, as Reed notes, is it’s obvious that both Safechuck and Robson, in certain aspects, to this day still have fond feelings toward Jackson. And this is why both of them, at certain points in their life, defended Jackson when he ran into legal problems with other children. And this is why the documentary is so long, because we, as an audience, need to spend that amount of time with these two, and their families, to even begin to understand their complicated and disturbing relationship with Jackson.
Ahead, Reed takes us through what it was like to sit in on these emotionally powerful interviews, and Reed explains what his life has been like since the film premiered at Sundance – because the “MJ Cultists,” as he puts it, have not been happy this film exists and have made their displeasure known.
How have the things been for you since the Sundance premiere, as far as the feedback? The people still defending Michael Jackson are very vocal.
Well, so, I always preface my answers by saying that the vast majority of Michael Jackson fans are people who love Michael’s music and are interested in his personality and have followed his progress for years. They play no part in this attempted vilification of anyone who dares to say anything, as they would see it, unkind about their idol. So that’s the majority of people out there who live in that kind of gray area that everyone was in I think before the storm appeared. Which is like, “Oh, we don’t really know. He’s a bit weird and maybe he did stuff and maybe he didn’t. We don’t really know whether Michael Jackson was a pedophile or not. So, in the meantime, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Then you have the people I call the MJ cultists, people who are just fanatical devotees and their first response is to be very vicious and nasty and will fling dirt in every direction they can. They’ve been on my case pretty much since the announcement. Some of it very nasty, vicious. I don’t want to quote anything, but trust me, it’s not the kind of thing you want to read in the morning when you get up. But, mostly, I started to ignore it all and just filed it all in junk and so did the other people in my company who had the misfortune to receive it.
What are you expecting when this actually airs on HBO and people start seeing it?
I think… I don’t know.
Subconsciously, I think I’ve kind of separated the guy who made Thriller from the guy involved in all the other stuff. After watching this, I don’t think I can listen to his music anymore.
Yes. That has been the response from pretty much everyone that’s watched the film. If people have said anything about the music, it’s always been, “We’re not going to be able to watch, listen anymore.” It’s sad, isn’t it? I mean, he’s a great recording artist, he was a great entertainer. That will now have a bitter taste, I suppose, in a lot of people’s minds. I’m also aware that for his kids to hear about – you know from Paris and Prince and Blanket to hear about what their dad was doing – is going to be painful. But none of these considerations were cause for us to make me think we should suppress, or we should draw a veil over what Michael did to these two children, as they then were. And what I think he did to many other children as well. I think this guy was a prolific, predatory pedophile. That’s the picture that James and Wade painted. I find them totally credible. We’re talking about really major crimes here. These are not any sort of youthful indiscretions.