‘Leaving Neverland’ shows the forgotten side of Michael Jackson’s abuse allegations

There are layers of love, hate, giving and friendship, in addition to the actual crime


Photo from Leaving Neverland’s IMDb page

By Margaret Dewar, Collegian Correspondent

The world was shocked in 1993, and again in 2003, when allegations surfaced that Michael Jackson had been sexually abusing children. Earlier this year, the topic re-emerged with the release of the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland.”

“Leaving Neverland” is the third notable documentary that has been made about the case, but it is the first to focus on the perspective of the survivors. “Leaving Neverland” follows two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, as they describe their separate but similar experiences with Jackson, including graphic descriptions of how the men were abused. The film has been criticized for only presenting one side of the story, since Jackson’s estate wasn’t given a chance to respond in the documentary. Director Dan Reed responded to the claims by saying the documentary isn’t “a platform for the Jackson estate to launch their campaign of counter-information.”

The documentary takes a different look, not focusing on polarizing accusations and the trial that has been a primary focus in the past. The documentary instead explores the ignored signs of childhood sexual abuse and displays the painful truth of what these survivors must deal with into adulthood.

Robson and Safechuck take us on their journey with Jackson from the day they meet him. Both men describe being fans of Jackson prior to them meeting and identify an instant connection from the start. Both of the men recall hours-long phone calls with Jackson, saying that he would express how lonely he was and how they were some of the only people he trusted. They also recall him crying in front of them, never wanting to be apart. This connection was not only with the kids, but also with the families. The parents describe him as family, trusting him with their children without question.

It is easy to criticize the parents as some may assume they could see all of the signs of their children being abused. This is where people are wrong, and what the film tries to communicate. The parents were being groomed just as much as the children, and they were blinded by his celebrity. Jackson took the families on luxury vacations and gifted them large sums of money. The Robson’s were even given a small loan to purchase a house so they could move to California from Australia in hopes of kick starting their son’s career. Not only were the gifts hypnotizing but combined with Jackson’s charm, they were undeniable.

According to the men, the abuse lasted about seven years, ending after Jackson started to take other children under his wing, including Macaulay Culkin. Both men were left with feelings of jealousy and of being left behind. They had endured years of unspeakable abuse but the brainwashing and grooming had them wondering what they had done wrong to Jackson.

The film has been met with controversy, especially from Jackson’s many fans. Robson and Safechuck’s credibility has been questioned and have had their stories dismissed because of the long period of time it took the two to speak on the subject.

Robson actually defended Jackson when the allegations first surfaced in 2003, testifying that he had never been abused. Robson said he did it because of the loyalty and love he felt for Jackson as a friend and mentor, afraid to disappoint him. Years later in 2013 he changed his position, revealing that he had in fact been abused. This change of mind has led some to believe they are liars with an ulterior financial motive.

Today, the men are still dealing with the aftermath from their time with Jackson. Safechuck pointed out that this is something he will be dealing with until the day he dies. This process is ongoing, working through feelings of self-hatred, blame and forgiveness regarding everyone involved.

What this documentary does best is point out how complicated the subject of child sexual abuse really is. It is more than saying no, more than speaking out and more than an abusive relationship. In many cases, there are layers of love, hate, giving and friendship, in addition to the actual crime.

Safechuck said it best when he described his relationship with Jackson saying, “He was one of the kindest, most gentle, loving, caring people I knew. He helped me tremendously. He helped me with my career. He helped me with my creativity, with all of those sorts of things. And he also sexually abused me for seven years.”


Margaret Dewar can be reached at [email protected]