The cultural cancellation of Michael Jackson has taken 26 years and four hours.
Leaving Neverland is responsible for the latter. It’s a new documentary which focuses on two of Jackson’s former proteges, James Safechuck and Australian-born Wade Robson, and their stories of alleged sexual abuse. While their graphic accounts are harrowing, the true discomfort comes when learning about the alleged grooming of these innocent children and their starstruck, naive families.
In the two-part film, both men recount their time spent with Jackson in the late 1980s and early 90s, just a few years before the first claims of abuse were brought against the King of Pop in 1993 by the family of another young boy.
Viewers around the world have been shocked, many posting to Twitter over the weekend.
“Just watched. I’m sick to my stomach! To think I was a big Michael Jackson fan. He was a crafty, manipulative paedophile. ROT IN HELL,” one person wrote.
Others were moved by the victim’s testimonies. “My heart breaks for these guys. They were so overjoyed and happy to meet this megastar — their idol and he abused them in return,” another Twitter user said.
Even Oprah Winfrey, who hosted an interview with the men and director Dan Reed after the documentary aired in the US, said: “Here’s the reason why I’m here: In 25 years of The Oprah Show, I taped 217 episodes on sexual abuse. I tried and tried and tried to get the message across to people that sexual abuse was not just abuse; it was also sexual seduction.”
During the years that Safechuck and Robson were immersed in his world, Jackson was the most famous person in the world. His power and popularity were immeasurable.
Leaving Neverland doesn’t cast judgement on the alleged abuse, it attempts to shifts the lens on how we understand and perceive childhood sexual abuse. It outlines, in unflinching detail, how an abuser builds a relationship with a potential victim in order to gain their trust and lower their inhibitions with the objective of sexual exploitation.
“He was one of the kindest, most gentle, loving, caring people I knew,” Robson said. “And he also sexually abused me for seven years.”
“Leaving Neverland doesn’t cast judgement on the alleged abuse, it attempts to shifts the lens on how we understand and perceive childhood sexual abuse.”
While there are concerns about the veracity of his claims, Robson’s story is perhaps the most shocking. A middle-class kid from Brisbane who met Jackson, his idol and mentor, in 1987 during the Bad tour and then again as a seven-year-old.
The family travelled to Los Angeles and four hours after his ambitious mother tracked down the number of Jackson’s assistant, Robson and his 10-year-old sister were sharing the singer’s bed at the Neverland ranch.
Robson was then left in Jackson’s care for five days while the rest of his family continued their holiday.
“Standard instincts and judgements went out the window,” Robson said. “I spent five days alone with him and from day one there was physical contact. Out of all the kids in the world he chose me to be his friend.”
Robson went on to outline nights filled with masturbation, groping and oral sex followed by days “filled with childlike magic and adventures”.
“Nothing aggressive. Nothing abrasive. I never felt scared. It just didn’t seem that strange,” Robson said despite “his mouth [being] on my seven-year-old penis”.
Both Robson and Safechuck’s experiences, which included a mock wedding with vows, allegedly involved Jackson comforting them but with menacing undertones of all of their lives “being over if anyone found out”.
“You and I were brought together by God. We were meant to be together, this is how we show our love,” Robson recalls being told by Jackson.
Jackson based his entire career off exquisite dance moves, brilliant vocals and a weird Peter Pan schtick of being “a little boy” who never grew up. But at his very core — and at the height of his fame — he was a 30-something year-old man, and the most famous person in the world, befriending children.
Leaving Neverland is a stunning, devastating four hours where we see how the abused boys, now grown men with kids of their own, acknowledge the horror of what Jackson did to them.
Safechuck recalled a time when he was shown pornography by Jackson which left him with a “heavy feeling” in his stomach. That heaviness oozes out of this documentary and is something fans of Jackson’s brilliant music must now endure.
Those running for the dance floor every time Thriller comes on must now consider for how much longer they can separate the art from the artist. Or perhaps whenever we hear that unmistakable beat of Smooth Criminal we must now realise we are listening to one. Black or White isn’t just one of his greatest hits anymore, it is how we must see Jackson’s sexually deviant nature.
However, once you watch Finding Neverland and then hear an MJ hit it will be near impossible to ignore the stories from these victims, which is perhaps a more powerful move than cancelling him forever.
The Jackson legacy is now not just about the music.