A four-hour documentary dedicated to detailing stories from survivors of Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse premiered at Sundance on January 25. Jackson’s camp has preemptively called the doc “outrageous and pathetic.”
According to The Guardian, the documentary begins with one of the accusers praising Jackson’s talent, listing the ways the singer helped him, and finally adding “And he sexually abused me for seven years.”
Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the men featured in the documentary, say they were seven and 10 when Jackson reached out to them. Robson won a dance contest where the prize was the chance to meet his idol. Safechuck met him on the set of a Pepsi ad.
Robson says that Jackson once told him, “You and I were brought together by God,” while Safechuck recounts having to playact marrying his abuser:
In one of the most chilling scenes, James recalls the mock wedding the pair had, complete with a wedding ring which he still owns and shows to the camera. He claims Jackson would reward him with jewelry for engaging in sexual acts. “It’s still hard for me to not blame myself,” he says, with his hands shaking as he holds the many trinkets.
In a Q & A with the audience after the screening, both men said they weren’t paid to participate in the documentary and were instead hoping to raise awareness:
“We can’t change what happened to us. And we can’t do anything about Michael,” Robson said in a Q&A with the audience. But he said he hopes it makes other survivors feel less isolated and raises awareness for anyone who is responsible for children.
Jackson’s camp, along with angry fans, have been attempting to get ahead of the documentary and discount the survivors’ stories in recent weeks. Before the documentary premiered, Jackson’s estate preemptively issued a statement to People:
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the statement reads. “Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception’, filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.”
Fans also organized protests outside the theater where the documentary premiered, which led to beefed up security, though only a few protesters actually showed up.
On Twitter, critics called the film “more disturbing than you could imagine,” while fans trotted out the same cries of “Not guilty” they always do when confronted with allegations about Jackson or R. Kelly.
Robson testified on behalf of Jackson in the 2003 case against him, though both men later sued Jackson’s estate. In the documentary, the men both say that they’ve spent years dealing with the psychological fallout from Jackson’s abuse, The Guardian reports:
“Secrets will eat you up,” James says while detailing the long term damage of the alleged abuse. Both he and Wade have suffered from depression, self-loathing, and anxiety and have struggled with familial relations. At one point, bleakly, James adds: “I don’t think time heals this one. It just gets worse.”
Leaving Neverland will air on HBO later in 2019.