LEAVING NEVERLAND – Two Sides to A Documentary?

A documentary is often called “Cinema Verte,” filming the truth. The thing is, especially in today’s culture, whose truth are you filming? News stations are supposed to report the facts, the truth or reality. Well, how come Fox News and CNN are so diverse on the same subjects?

The reality is people have agendas and their own beliefs; which are often tainted. There’s no question that Leaving Neverland is a one-sided documentary that does not question its two subjects’ claims. It presents their claims simply as the truth. The problem with that is, it’s their truth or their version of the truth or it could be (dare I say it), a pack of lies.

Directed by British documentarian Dan Reed, the project unpacks in explicit detail the allegations of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who say they suffered years of sexual abuse at Jackson’s hands when they were boys.

Robson claims the abuse began at age 7. Safechuck says he became sexually active with Jackson at age 10. Both men testified on the pop star’s behalf in a 1993 sexual-abuse case brought by a different boy and claimed at the time that Jackson never did anything inappropriate.

The “documentary” Leaving Neverland is an entirely one-sided account by two alleged victims who had spent the decades before denying that they had been molested. It doesn’t deal with the fact that Jackson was actually tried on child abuse charges and acquitted, investigated by child protective services and cleared and the target of a 13-year FBI investigation into the allegations which turned up nothing.

Against all these non-results of inquiries by highly competent and professional institutions, we are supposed to accept the inconsistent testimony of two people who had their cases against Jackson’s estate tossed out and were assessed hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. They now hope to recover the fees by repeating stories that they used to deny and which are not supported by any independent evidence.

They now say they were lying, motivated by love and loyalty for Jackson, and were only able to face the truth after they each had young children of their own.

HBO showed the docu-series in March and the result is that it split the nation, the world on how they view Michael Jackson and it’s affected his music sales and MJ promotions.  MJ backers, fans, and family are hoping that this stigma and backlash will pass.

Only a couple of protesters turned up at Sundance. But online, a storm was brewing. Hardcore fans were at the ready on Twitter, directing an onslaught of messages at any of the festival-goers who walked out of the Egyptian and posted about what they had seen.

“Basically, to believe Wade Robson’s allegations, you have to believe that he is a liar to a great degree,” said Sara Richards, a 26-year-old student who lives in the United Kingdom and is the co-owner of MJ Legion, one of the many Twitter fan pages that has dedicated its feed to discrediting the accusers.

“To believe him now, you have to believe that he was lying for the last 20 years, including under oath,” she continued. “I hear people saying you must believe the victims, which I strongly agree with. But when you’ve been faced with a situation where someone has been lying for 20 years straight, you can’t take it at face value. This is obviously bringing a lot of attention and fame, and eventually, down the road, I’m sure they’ll be able to make money somehow.”

Richards, like most ardent Jackson fans who have been rallying online, is echoing the position of the Jackson estate, which has dismissed the “so-called ‘documentary’” as a rehash of “dated and discredited allegations.”

In part, because Robson and Safechuck defended Jackson years ago, the film has come under intense scrutiny by the estate, which has accused the film’s subjects of being motivated by money.

The estate and Jackson’s fans are encouraging the public to see the film as nothing more than a smear campaign against a singer who was vilified his entire life and innocent of all allegations against him (Jackson was acquitted on charges of child molestation and of administering an intoxicating agent to a minor in 2005; he paid $22 million to settle a civil case with another accuser in 1994). MJ always regretted taking that advice and doing it.

From left, Director Dan Reed, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, pose to promote the Michael Jackson documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ during the Sundance Film Festival. (Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

“The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact,” Jackson’s estate said in a lengthy statement issued after Leaving Neverland premiered.

“These claims were the basis of lawsuits filed by these two admitted liars which were ultimately dismissed by a judge. The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations … despite all the disingenuous denials made that this is not about money, it has always been about money — millions of dollars.”

The idea for the documentary began with Reed, who had been looking back in 2016 for his next nonfiction project: something big and investigative, an iconic American story that had the power to engage audiences on a global scale. During lunch with an executive at England’s Channel 4, he suggested Michael Jackson: Was he or wasn’t he guilty of sexual abuse?

Upon learning of Robson and Safechuck’s complaints, Reed reached out to the legal teams for the two men and expressed his interest in interviewing them. Though the filmmaker felt “it was a real long shot,” the accusers agreed to participate.

Once Robson explained that he’d loved Jackson as a boy, “everything suddenly crystallized” for Reed — and he understood why Robson had come to the singer’s defense for so long.

Online, the Jackson fan response has been swift and aggressive, with hundreds of individuals who have yet to see the docu-series jumping to the late star’s defense. “It’s [a] modern-day lynching,” one fan tweeted in response to The Times’ coverage. “It’s a biased & obviously fabricated film! You can talk about what you’ve seen but we’re asking rightfully so, to be critical & research the accusers.”

Here are some truths from Esmeralda Rokaj, MJ fan:

  • It’s a fact that Wade Robson has given 4 drastically different versions of his alleged abuse. He was caught lying so much in the lawsuit that when it was dismissed, the judge said: “No reasonable juror could believe his case”. It’s on the document.
  • It’s a fact that Wade initially said he did not remember the abuse until 2013 and was having mental breakdowns between 2011 and 2012 that made him remember. The problem? The timeline of his breakdowns is the same as that of him praising MJ in interviews. Why was he praising someone whom he was remembering to have had molested him?
  • It’s a fact that after that error from his part, Wade changed his story completely to “always remembered the abuse but never recognized it as abuse” until 2013 when he sued the Estate. The problem? In his lawsuit, it was discovered that in 2012 he was writing and trying to sell a book about MJ allegedly molesting him. How was he writing a book about being abused in 2012 if he only recognized he was abused in 2013? And what victim starts writing a book before even telling anyone what happened? Also, he presented 2 drafts of the book in his lawsuit, and the story changed significantly from one draft to the other.
  • It’s a fact that Wade was caught exchanging emails with his mother where they plot a story and discuss having several versions. In the emails, they also denied the veracity of some eyewitness accounts which Wade included in his lawsuit anyway, knowing they were untrue.
  • It’s a fact that Wade claims he is speaking up about sexual abuse victims. However, when he sued the Estate, the initial lawsuit was filed UNDER SEAL which means it would not be publicized in the media. Only when the Estate refused to settle, he went public with his claims.
  • It’s a fact that in the documentary, Wade’s wife says she didn’t know how to help Wade cope with his trauma because she knows nothing about sexual abuse. However, on the donation page that Wade has set up for himself, he says his own wife is a survivor of sexual abuse. That line has now been removed but there are images of the original saved by researchers.
  • It’s a fact that Safechuck’s stories about him and MJ are identical to a fictional book written about MJ and Jordan Chandler in the mid-90s by a suspected pedophile and NAMBLA member, whom MJ sued for defamation and won. They also contradict real timelines. If we are to believe him, we should also believe that Michael Jackson, except for a great singer, songwriter and dancer, was also a freaking teleporter and time traveler.

“If anything, these two guys are showing they don’t care about real victims. They are just using the title for themselves because it benefits them,” says Esmeralda Rokaj, MJ fan.

“MJ was eccentric in his way, no denying that. I also think he put himself in a difficult position many times by raising speculation and did things we might deem unusual, but he never had sinister intentions. He was actually too naive for his own good,” says Esmeralda Rokaj, MJ fan.

There are still a number of men who spent time with Jackson as boys who insist they were never abused by the musician. Brett Barnes and actor Macaulay Culkin are featured in the film, with archival footage showing them spending time with the singer in their youth; they both also testified on Jackson’s behalf in his 2005 trial.

Culkin, now 38, said in an interview on the podcast “Inside of You With Michael Rosenbaum” that Jackson befriended him because they both understood how isolating child fame could be.

“It’s almost easy to try to say it was like weird or whatever, but it wasn’t, because it made sense,” Culkin said. “At the end of the day, we were friends.”

As fans and the estate continue to push back, Jackson’s nephew, Taj Jackson, is raising funds to release a counter-documentary series that he says will expose “media and showbiz corruption” and reveal how his uncle was “betrayed, entrapped, and extorted” because of his “unique” relationships with children.

“After having their abuse allegations dismissed by the court, the two men who are subjects in this film have turned to HBO, the UK’s Channel 4 and the Sundance Film Festival to tell their stories. I’m extremely disappointed in Sundance. Enough is enough. Michael Jackson died an innocent, vindicated man. It’s time to take a stand, and I’m fighting hard for the truth,” Taj said in a statement. He’s raised more than $30,000 of his $777,000 goal.

Whatever comes next, Reed said that Robson and Safechuck are ready for the next step. And he remains optimistic that by sharing their stories, the film could spur a larger conversation.

In a statement, Jackson’s estate blasted the documentary as another money-grabbing attempt. “This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the statement said. “This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations.” On Feb. 21, Jackson’s estate filed a lawsuit against the film, claiming the documentary violates a disparagement clause in an old contract with HBO.

The Jackson family also slammed the documentary in a statement released on Jan. 28. “Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made,” the statement from the Jackson family read. “The creators of this film were not interested in the truth.”

Jackson’s estate said it was “baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”

So, where’s the documentary answer to, Leaving Neverland? I think Taj Jackson and the MJ fan base may have something to say. Cinema Verte, where does the exact truth lie? Who’s asking and who’s sayin’.

Photo credit front cover by Brusheezy