Is it possible to detach an icon—especially someone whose name is etched in history as one of the most masterly in his field—from his real-life persona whose image is contaminated by unlawful, licentious acts? Woody Allen, Bryan Singer, Harvey Weinstein, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Kevin Spacey, are just some of the names who have been accused of sexual misconduct in recent memory. By reading the stories that has been told about them, it seems like we’ve heard everything we needed to hear, in every degree of gruesomeness.
Until January 2019 came along, and Dan Reed’s four-hour, two-part documentary Leaving Neverland premiered at the Sundance Film Festival as part of the Special Events category. According to multiple sources, including Rolling Stone and The New York Times, viewers who saw the film at the festival were filled with horror when it ended. The words “devastating” and “disturbing” were the words used to describe the documentary's revelations.
Leaving Neverland is anchored on the unsettlingly graphic testimonies—mostly done through on-camera interviews—of Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 41, of their time, as young boys, spent with the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. It delves deep into the long-running history of alleged child molestation and abuse charges against Jackson. It tells the story of families lured into a luxurious and comfortable life, the alleged abuse experienced by the boys—now grownups—in the hands of Jackson, and the exact spots where these episodes of abuse took place in the singer-songwriter’s infamous estate, the Neverland ranch in Los Angeles, California.
The prize was meeting Michael
Robson and Safechuck met Jackson when they were both children. Robson, according to a Rolling Stone article published on March 1, met Jackson when the former was five years old. A child from Australia, Robson became a fan of Jackson when one day his mother brought home a videotape that contained details of the making of Jackson’s music video for “Thriller.” Robson joined and won a Jackson-themed dance contest, and the prize was getting to meet Michael Jackson himself during the Brisbane leg of his "Bad" tour. Bad is the seventh studio album of Michael Jackson, released in 1987.
The Robson family spent time with The Gloved One. He told them to look for him if they were ever in the U.S.A. According to an article by The Washington Post, published last March 4, two years after meeting Jackson, the family visited America as Robson’s dance troupe were touring in the country to “perform at Disneyland.” Robson’s mother, Joy, according to the same article, contacted Jackson’s assistant. Soon, the Robson family, including Robson’s sister, Chantal, were invited to Neverland. Robson was seven years old then.
Safechuck, on the other hand, was not really a fan of Michael Jackson, according to the same Rolling Stone feature. As a child, he was cast in a Pepsi commercial where his character sneaked into Jackson’s dressing room to try on the star’s pair of sunglasses. Later in the commercial, Jackson enters his dressing room and the man and child meet. After the TVC stint, the Safechuck family were eventually invited to Jackson’s estate. Safechuck was ten years old at the time.
"They were just doing kid things"
The alleged sexual misconduct happened when Robson was seven years old and Safechuck ten years old. The two men and their mothers had parallel stories. Soon after gaining the family’s trust, Jackson would ask the mothers for permission to have their sons stay longer in Neverland. The mothers, at first, didn’t think much of it.
In the official trailer for the documentary, posted on Youtube by HBO, Safechuck’s mother, Stephanie, says that the activities she saw Jackson and her son take part in were, “Just kid things. They were just doing kid things.” Robson, recalling his time with Jackson, says in the trailer: "He told me, If they ever found out what we were doing, he and I will go to jail for the rest of our lives." In the Washington Post article, Safechuck said he “watched movies and ate popcorn” with Jackson. The article further says that Stephanie found the setup to be “like a fairytale.” She adds, “He could be anywhere, with anybody in the world, and Michael wanted to be with our family.”
Robson in the Washington Post story states that the abuse began during his first night at Neverland. At day time, they would “play tag, watch movies and practice dance moves,” but at night, Jackson would “touch him inappropriately.”
The Daily Beast reports a more detailed depiction of the abuse. In an article published on January 25, 2019, Jackson, according to Safechuck, performed sexual acts on him in many places within the ranch, including, “in the bedroom closet, so that there were more barriers; in an attic; in toy teepees outside; in a movie theater.” The article also quotes Safechuck in the documentary, when he says, “It sounds sick, but it’s kind of like when you’re first dating somebody. You do a lot of it.”
In the same Daily Beast report, Safechuck said Jackson would ask him to position himself on all fours, while the pop star masturbated. Both Robson and Safechuck also recounted how they were taught to masturbate, perform oral sex on Jackson, and touch his nipples. Jackson would also perform oral sex on them. They would have drills, the report says, where Jackson would make them put on clothes as fast as possible, in case anyone suddenly walked in on them. Soon, Robson and Safechuck recounted, Jackson introduced them to pornography and alcohol.
Robson, according to the article, recalled that Jackson “justified” the abuse by telling him that they were “meant to be together,” and were brought together by God.
"Wedding" with a minor
Multiple sources wrote about Safechuck’s revelation that Jackson arranged their “wedding” when he was a minor. A January 25 article in The Guardian reveals that according to Safechuck, for the “mock wedding,” Jackson gave him a wedding ring, which he shows to the camera. Safechuck also reveals that Jackson would give him jewelry after the alleged sexual acts. Safechuck’s hands were “shaking,” according to the story, when he showed the jewelry to the camera.
Vanity Fair published an article on February 21, 2019, about the documentary. Part of the article recalls the years that Michael Jackson was accused of the same crime he committed against Safechuck and Robson. In 1993, the world of pop received a massive blow when Jackson was accused of molesting Jordan Chandler, who was 13 at the time the alleged crime happened. The case was settled out of court in the amount of 20 million dollars, according to Vanity Fair. That time, Safechuck and Robson testified on the side of Jackson.
The same article recalled that in 2003, Jackson was arrested and charged with “seven counts of child molestation and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of committing a felony.” He was acquitted in 2005. For that trial, Robson again testified on behalf of Jackson. Safechuck, however, refused to help his alleged abuser. In the Rolling Stone article, Safechuck was said to have told his mother that Jackson, “was not a good man.” Safechuck’s relationship with Jackson soured after that.
When Robson was 14 years old, years after the 1993 scandal, Jackson again invited him to his hotel room—their first meeting in a long time, according to the article in Variety. Jackson tried to penetrate the teenager from behind, the story says, but stopped mid-way when Robson couldn’t take the pain. The next day, Robson said Jackson asked him to dispose the underwear he was wearing as it had blood on it. That was the last time he experienced abuse from Jackson.
The last dinner
People.com published an article on March 5, 2019, focusing on how Robson met Jackson one last time before the pop star’s death in 2009 at the age of 50. The context was taken from the second part of Leaving Neverland.
Robson was in Las Vegas at the time, with his wife, Amanda, says the article. Robson was there as a choreographer for a Cirque du Soleil show, and he asked Jackson to write words of encouragement for the performers. Robson and Amanda then had dinner with Jackson and his three children, Prince Michael, Paris, and Bigi. Jackson, according to the article, had lots of wine—Jackson was adamant about Robson bringing wine. Later, Jackson would ask to be excused so he could go upstairs, “for a second.” Robson never saw him again.
Where they are now
An article on The Guardian, published on March 4, states that Robson went on to become a successful choreographer to the likes of N’Sync and Britney Spears. He stopped dancing for a while because he had bouts of anxiety and recalled Jackson’s abuse every time he would dance. He is now married to Amanda, and they have one child together. He is still a choreographer.
The Independent wrote that Safechuck had moved into the tech industry. But not before he joined a band and got addicted to drugs. “When the drugs went away, though, then the pain started,” read part of the article. “I was hit with everything that had been masked, and I was struggling. You don't know why you're in so much pain; you don't connect the abuse to the pain that you're in at the moment.”
The Sun published an article on March 6, 2019, stating that Safechuck now works as the Director of Innovation and Technology at Avatar Labs R&D projects. He is married to Laura Primack, and they have one daughter and one son together.
Jackson’s team denies all allegations
The Jackson family’s estate lawyer Howard Weitzman sent a letter to HBO, which was then released to The Associated Press (AP). The letter, according to The Associated Press, was said to have asked for a meeting with the HBO executives to “discredit” the documentary, calling it “disgraceful.” The report stated that the “estate contends the men are lying and court filings and story inconsistencies prove that.” The letter also condemned the people behind the documentary for not getting the side of Jackson’s family or “others who knew him.”
Jackson’s statements denying all criminal allegations against him are included in the documentary.
According to the report, the letter also said that Robson had “sought work on a Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil show and raised the molestation allegations only after he wasn’t hired.”
Director Reed previously stated that, “Anyone who sees the film will know it is solely about hearing the stories of two specific individuals and their families in their own words, and that is a focus we are very proud of.”
Weitzman’s letter, on the other hand, declared, as per AP: “We know that this will go down as the most shameful episode in HBO’s history.”