NOTE: This article contains sexual and offensive language and may be triggering for some readers. Please read at your own discretion.
The documentary, directed by Dan Reed, focuses on Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who both allege that they were molested by Jackson as children.
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In one of their statements, Jackson’s estate described the documentary as a “public lynching” and argued that Jackson is unable to defend himself.
Reed responded to their claims that Leaving Neverland is a “tabloid character assassination.”
“It is a four-hour documentary by an experienced documentarian with a long track record in investigation and telling complex stories and this is a complex story,” Reed told the Hollywood Reporter.
“I’d say it’s beyond doubt a documentary. Anyone with any knowledge of that form would recognize a documentary. A four-hour piece, is that a tabloid? I didn’t characterize Jackson at all in the film — I think if you watch it you’ll have noticed that it’s a story about these two families and Jackson is an element of that story,” Reed said.
He continued: “But I don’t seek to characterize him at all. I don’t comment on Jackson. It’s not a film about Michael. … The film itself is an account of sexual abuse, how sexual abuse happens and then how the consequences play out later in life.”
Responding to the family, Reed said that “they have a very precious asset to protect.”
“Every time a song plays, a cash register goes ‘ka-ching.’ It doesn’t surprise me that they’ve come out fighting in defence of their asset,” he said.
He added: “Wade and James were not paid in any way, directly, indirectly. The family were not enumerated. There was nothing. No compensation in any form whatsoever. I think that’s an important thing to establish.”
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Jackson was subjected to a thorough investigation which included a raid of his home, the Neverland Ranch, but was still acquitted at his criminal trial in 2005, in a case involving another young man.
Robson testified at that trial, saying he had slept in Jackson’s room many times, but that Jackson had never molested him. Safechuck made similar statements to investigators as a boy. Jackson died in 2009.
Both men filed lawsuits in 2013, saying stress and trauma had forced them to face the truth and admit they were sexually abused. The suits have been thrown out on technical grounds but are under appeal.
Reed said that he was hoping to “educate people as to how child sexual abuse happens.”
“The #MeToo era began during the making of the film, and there’s been a sea change in how we regard the victims of sexual assault, and I’m hoping that this film will deepen that and widen it to boys and men, victims of child sexual abuse. Also I’m hoping it’ll educate people as to how child sexual abuse happens.”
Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson recently created a GoFundMe page to raise money for his own documentary that will dispute the allegations against the star in Leaving Neverland.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.