By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by HBO and JoBlo TV Show Trailers©
Legend. Icon. Musical genius. The Greatest. Humanitarian. The King of Pop. These are just some of the defining words which have come to describe Michael Jackson, but as the controversial documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ finally airs to the world, is there a more damning title – Paedophile?
The mammoth 4-hour film directed by Dan Reed, tells the story of two young men who claim they were systemically abused by Jackson as children. Wade Robson and James Safechuck provide detailed interviews where they describe the depraved sexual acts performed on them, and for, Michael Jackson. Along with interviews by both men’s mothers and extended family, ‘Leaving Neverland’ constructs an image of a King of Pop whose deceit, manipulation and fascination in young boys evaded justice.
In part, that evasion was owing to Wade and James’ testimonies throughout Jackson’s life. Neither men ever supported the claims made by other young boys regarding Jackson’s sordid behaviour. And this has led to critics and fans of Michaels’ to heavily question their motives. Money? Fame? Many reasons have been thrown at both Wade and James, but it is worth noting that neither men have been paid for the documentary and neither will receive any financial gain in the future.
So, what has driven these two grown men, each with successful jobs and family lives, to finally speak out? Fatherhood. Both Wade and James state that since having children, they finally understand the complexity of the abuse they suffered at the hands of Michael Jackson. They are hoping to teach others how abuse can be more than just the sexual act, but also seduction.
I can honestly say that ‘Leaving Neverland’ was genuinely one of the most disturbing, compelling and utterly devastating documentaries I have ever seen. The descriptions of Jackson’s acts with both boys are incredibly explicit and hard to hear, but impossible to forget. But what is truly disturbing, more so than the heinous physical abuse, is the lengths of manipulation Jackson went to, to separate Wade and James from their families. Here is a man who would actively pit these boys against their parents, making them doubt the safety of their own homes. And, like most sexual abusers, ensure that their victims never saw beyond the world of the abuser, and in this case Jackson seemingly excelled.
This came to a head after Wade and his family spent five days at Jackson’s ranch, Neverland in California. On the final night, Wade, who had been sharing a room with the thirty-three-year-old singer, found him crying, sobbing that he didn’t want Wade to leave him. The next morning, Jackson asked the seven-year-old Wade’s mother to allow him to stay at Neverland for a full year so he could train him as a dancer. She outright refused the offer, to which Jackson chillingly responded, “I always get what I want.” Sadly, although it would not be twelve months, Wade and his family would stay another five days.
The documentary doesn’t hold back, and the conviction of both men is utterly convincing. And whilst Michael Jackson is no longer here to defend himself, it is hard to see how he could, considering the testimonies on offer. The film isn’t overly emotional, there are barely any tears and Jackson is never spoken about with any malice or anger from both Wade or James. If anything, this shows that these two men, whose innocence was cruelly stolen by a man they trusted, a man they idolised and worshipped, still don’t want to hurt him. Jackson still has somewhat of a hold over them. “You can’t say anything, we’ll both end up in jail if they catch us,” Jackson would say. And it seems that sentiment of imprisonment never really left.
As the documentary ends, it is hard to describe the lasting overall feeling. Anger, disgust, frustration, or as the boy’s mothers describe theirs, relief. Relief that Michael Jackson can no longer harm young boys, can no longer manipulate them to his immoral urges. But, what is ultimately left, as the credits roll, is the simple question of, what now?
What now for Michael Jackson? What now for his music? What now for his symbol as the King of Pop? These are questions that will need an answer, and unlike Jackson’s abuse, cannot be ignored or explained away. Do we boycott his iconic music, as BBC’s Radio 2 have? Do we dethrone a man who has done so much for the music industry? If we are to change the landscape of sexual abuse and the consequences that follow, then the answer is simple – yes.
Jackson will never see any justice for his alleged crimes, and when he came close to, he was found innocent on all counts. But that was 2005, this is 2019 and the Court of Public Opinion is a considerable one. Whilst the Jackson hardliners will never doubt his 2005 verdict of innocence, those who simply admired his work and musical genius, are. How is it acceptable that a thirty-three-year-old man shares his bed with a child? How is it acceptable that a grown man would prefer to spend time with young boys instead of people his own age? These are questions that were once batted away with sycophantic ideology, but sadly what seems a more logical explanation, is sexual abuse.
Ultimately ‘Leaving Neverland’ will ignite fierce debate on Michael Jackson. It will create staunch camps on either side, the guilty and the innocent. It will never conclusively prove that Michael Jackson was a child molester, but after watching the documentary it’s hard to believe he wasn’t. This is a man who was actively sharing his bed with children, an adult who seemingly saw nothing wrong with it and felt a sense of power over young, easily manipulated boys. ‘Leaving Neverland’ may feature Michael Jackson, but in essence, it is the story of two young boys who suffered at the hands of one of the most famous people to walk this Earth.
He was a legend, a musical genius, an icon and the King of Pop, but after watching ‘Leaving Neverland’ he was also a paedophile and like Wade Robson states, “I want to speak the truth as loud as I had to speak the lie.” We can only hope that more follow suit.