Leaving Neverland

Will Leaving Neverland finally dethrone the self-proclaimed King of Pop?

Leaving Neverland, the two-part Michael Jackson documentary, directed by Dan Reed, is available on HBO. If you haven’t heard about it by now, you probably haven’t been paying attention. I wrote about this for TheLatest.com the other day but figured I’d expand on it a little more here.

It focuses on the stories of two Michael Jackson child protégé’s, James Safechuck and Wade Robson. There’s no real way to unpack it all here, but here’s what I feel you should know.

Safechuck’s and Robson’s stories are tough. They’re brutal. What the two boys were allegedly subjected to under the instruction of Jackson is . . . I’m not sure I have the right word for it. I’ll settle on grisly. If what they say is true, and I believe that it is, what they (and probably far too many others young boys) were subjected to was grisly. If you decide to watch it, consider yourself warned. The descriptions are very graphic.

You can blame the mothers. And you should. But be careful and be kind. Placed in perspective Michael Jackson was, literally, the biggest star in the world. Just try to think about that. He was famous for his enormous talent . . . not his number of Instagram followers. And he was paying attention to their family! There is no modern equivalent and I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like that again. I defy anyone who wouldn’t be star struck by that.

Now of course you can puff out your chest and say, “I would never do such a thing.” I don’t know if that’s being completely honest. As a culture we have always been too easily star struck and I think we’re worse now.

If you consider the ever expanding shitstorm of the current Catholic church, however unintentionally, parents have sacrificed their children for far less than world travel with first class accommodations, private loans, homes and cars.

And to be fair, both mothers cop to the mistakes they made and admit to scratching their heads as Jackson’s manipulative and predatory behavior began to intensify. Unfortunately, they were both so enamored with everything that accompanied being in the orbit of the world’s biggest start they accepted things that no typical soccer mom would accept from a neighbor. And when both women find out what happened to their sons, there is real pain and anger. In particular, with Mrs. Safechuck.

It’s true that Jackson was never convicted of an impropriety with a child. He settled out of court in the 90’s for a rumored 20 million dollars. And then he was found “not guilty” in the case against him in 2005. But, as a point of clarity, only he and his legal team ever declared him “innocent”.

“Not guilty” is not the same as innocent.  

Michael Jackson’s behavior was always tossed aside with “he never had a childhood” or it was the “quirky benign behavior of a genius”. And sure, Jackson didn’t have a childhood, he was a musical genius and he could be quirky. Those are also accurate.

However, like any good predator he was also savvy and very manipulative. To accomplish this kind of stuff he had to be!  

As good as this documentary is it’s not, and shouldn’t be thought of as, journalism. There are only the voices and stories of Safechuck and Robson. No one is speaking for Jackson, so the doc leans one direction. Which is okay, their stories deserve, and need to be told. And we should listen.

Unfortunately, even if someone could or would speak for Jackson, nothing can be solved now. The best we can hope for is to learn and to heal. I’m also not sure this film will change anyone’s mind. Michael Jackson has always had his defenders and he’s always had his critics around this topic and if you were on the fence about Jackson’s guilt before, I’m not convinced Leaving Netherland will put you in the “Yep, he’s guilty” camp. But that in no way diminishes the films impact.

Like Surviving R. Kelly before it, what Leaving Neverland does is add more names to an ever growing list of sad and awful stories. Which can help provide context and maybe, possibly help carve a path to some kind of cultural recovery from all of this.

Dan Reed uses the stories of James Safechuck and Wade Robson in Leaving Neverland  to remove much of the music and art that made up Michael Jackson. For his entire lifetime, we only knew the man through his art. Michael Jackson, the man, remained a mystery. The film’s greatest accomplishment is that it reveals the mystery of the man. And the truth is that Michael Jackson, the man, was a monster.

Some will call Safechuck and Robson liars. Some will call Michael Jackson sick. Some will call Michael Jackson unhealthy.

They’re all wrong. I believe James Safechuck and Wade Robson.

And there is a word for Michael Jackson, it’s pedophile.

Further Reading & Listening:

Maureen Dowd: The King of Pop – and Perversion:

NYTimes – The Daily Podcast: Reckoning with Michael Jackson

NYTimes – Still Processing Podcast: M.J.:

TheGuardian – Today in Focus Podcast: Let’s Talk About Michael Jackson:

Oprah Winfrey full interview with James Safechuck, Wade Robson and Dan Reed: