“Leaving Neverland,” the HBO documentary detailing an investigation into child sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, generated an array of emotions for viewers after it debuted Sunday.
The film centers around Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who say Jackson repeatedly molested them when they were children. The first half that aired Sunday detailed their experiences, including perspectives from relatives who knew Jackson at the time and described him as a harmless, childish pop star.
Robson and Safechuck were separately brought into Jackson’s inner circle as children under the guise of mentorship. The men allege that the pop star introduced them to kissing, pornography, masturbation, oral sex and more while they were kids. They said they only realized in their 30s that their alleged respective experiences with Jackson amounted to assault.
Many, including activists and celebrities, tweeted their support for the alleged victims.
The family of Jackson, who died in 2009, has called the film “a public lynching.” In a statement, the Jackson estate called the movie “a one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself.”
Oprah Winfrey, who taped “After Neverland,” an interview with Robson and Safechuck that will air on HBO Monday, anticipated the backlash.
“We’re all gonna get it, I’m gonna get it, we’re all gonna get it,” she told press during the taping of the special, referring to potential anger from Jackson fans.
Still, Winfrey and others felt it was important that people see the documentary that shed light on the pop star’s alleged dark past.
“I know people all over the world are gonna be in an uproar and debating whether or not Michael Jackson did these things or not, did he do it or not do it, whether these two men are lying or not lying,” she said. “But for me, this moment transcends Michael Jackson. It is much bigger than any one person. This is a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption. It’s like a scourge on humanity and it’s happening right now. It’s happening in families.”
The strong reactions to the film come not long after the film’s premiere at January’s Sundance Film Festival, where it also left attendees shellshocked. As HuffPost reported, the festival’s director, John Cooper, introduced the documentary with a trigger warning and told attendees that mental health professionals would be available to speak to them in the lobby.
Director Dan Reed also stood by his film.
“I’m realizing now the magnitude of his influence and how many people adore him, how he’s woven into the fabric of so many people’s lives,” he told HuffPost in an interview at Sundance. “[Now we’re] challenging his reputation, and we’re not the first [people] to do it. But I believe that this film has a completeness and a credibility that hasn’t been matched before. This is really the first time that survivors of child sexual abuse and Michael have spoken out.”
Reed also told HuffPost that the film is meant to be less about Jackson and more about the trauma that arises from child sexual abuse.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.