Michael Jackson Leaving Neverland Documentary Guide to Date, Plot and Backstory

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Michael Jackson Leaving Neverland Documentary Guide to Date, Plot and Backstory

There’s always a few big movies that come out of Sundance, but none this year have been bigger than the bombshell documentary Leaving Neverland: the story of two of Michael Jackson’s former child companions who have come forward to discuss the alleged sexual abuse they endured at the Neverland Ranch. The film, co-produced by HBO and British-led Channel 4, will air in two parts later this year, but first it made its initial stop at Sundance.

What Is It About?

The documentary, directed by Dan Reed, centers primarily around two subjects: James Safechuck and Wade Robson. But while most headlines focus on the alleged abuse, the nearly four-hour film is about much more than the abuse itself. The story follows interviews with Safechuck and Robson, as well as their mothers, wives, and siblings to give a wider view of the abuse and the aftermath that followed.

According to Slate, the men document throughout the film times when Jackson allegedly gifted them jewelry in exchange for sexual favors, as well as times Jackson allegedly said they’d go to jail for the rest of their lives if they spoke about their experiences. But the back half of the film dives into the psychological damage that can affect abuse victims and those around them.

Reed, who has won three BAFTAs for his work, has a history with this particular subject matter. In 2014, he released The Pedophile Hunter, which follows Stinson Hunter and a group posing as underage girls to catch pedophiles. Leaving Neverland is said to be just as powerful. According to Slate’s article following the premiere, “It’s difficult to imagine anyone watching Leaving Neverland and coming away skeptical of Robson and Safechuck.”

The 1993 and 2005 Cases

The subject of the documentary isn’t particularly new. Jackson has faced scrutiny regarding his alleged past with sexual abuse of children. In two other separate occasions besides the cases of Safechuck and Robson, law suits have been filed against Jackson regarding abuse allegations.

The most high-profile was during the height of his career in 1993, which was settled outside of court and included no criminal charges. The case, which involved a child fan named Jordan Chandler, centered around Jackson’s alleged sexual involvement with the boy. The case resulted in Jackson cancelling the back leg of his tour, citing health problems from the case. An additional case involving multiple accounts of child molestation, child intoxication, and conspiring to commit child extortion and abduction developed in 2005 and ended with a jury finding Jackson not guilty.

The 2017 Dismissal

The cases featured in Leaving Neverland are that of Safechuck and Robson. After a complex relationship with the Jackson estate, each man filed a suit: one in 2013, the other in 2014. Both, however, were dismissed in 2017.

The Response to the Documentary

The Jackson family responded to the documentary swiftly, issuing a statement denouncing the film, saying, “…we can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on, and the vulture tweeters and others who never met Michael go after him. Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made.”

In an interview with USA Today, Reed rebutted, saying, “The statement contains nothing that is of concern and no substantial criticism of the film. They obviously haven’t seen it, and I’m not engaging with the substance of what they’re saying.”

The Jackson family is not alone in their criticism. Fans of Jackson have come forward, demanding that the documentary be removed from Sundance’s lineup after it world premiere. Sundance has released a statement acknowledging the criticism and affirming that it will not be removing the documentary from its slate.

Leaving Neverland does not currently have a hard premiere date on HBO according to The Washington Post, but it is said to be slated for the spring.

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