Nobody wants Leave Neverland to exist. It's clear.
Wade Robson and James Safechuck discuss in painful detail the aggression they experienced under the eyes of superstar pop Michael Jackson when they were boys. The film is not the first time Jackson is accused of mistreating young boys – in 1993, a lawsuit against him was settled amicably. And in 2005, he was acquitted of similar charges in a criminal trial was prompted in part by the 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson, in which the singer held hands with Gavin Arvizo, 12, and talked about sharing his bed with children.
In both trials, Robson testified in court on behalf of Jackson, while Safechuck defended him in front of the investigators. But now, the two men say that Jackson assaulted them in their childhood (and both have already tried to sue Jackson's estate before, in appeal cases).
This is the first time that the allegations are so detailed and presented in such a relentless way. And the response was deafening from those who would defend the deceased singer. Leave Neverland following his debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The estate is currently suing HBO for $ 100 million, in hopes of preventing its spread.
It is clear from the film itself that Robson and Safechuck do not want it to exist either. Neither their mother, nor their wife, nor other family members (including siblings and Robson's grandmother), who all appear on the screen to talk at length about the entanglement of their families with Jackson. Everyone is clearly horrified by what Robson and Safechuck say has happened. Everyone involved felt betrayed by Jackson, whom they considered a friend, a hero, a family member.
And it goes well beyond the participants. everyone There is no reason to listen to the charges against such a loved and important cultural figure as Jackson. Everyone wants us to live in a world where such things never happen. We had not heard these stories at all.
But Leave Neverland exists – and it is a slow, methodical, measured and devastating rebuttal to claims that victims of sexual assault in general, as well as Robson and Safechuck in particular, are only "of the party" for fame and money. With other recent films that focus on the victims rather than the accused (as Survive R. Kelly and Untouchable(Sundance's documentary about Harvey Weinstein) is a charge of a culture too much in love with celebrity to care about the dignity of ordinary people. This requires to be looked at and taken seriously by anyone who wants to talk about Jackson – in defense or in condemnation – in the future.
I too wish that this film does not exist.
The side of Jackson's story has been accepted as a fact for decades. Leave Neverland is on the other side.
With Leave Neverland, director Dan Reed did not produce a journalistic documentary – or at least, is not the kind of fiction that says you have to present "from both sides" to be able to say something true. Jackson first told his version of the story – that he was a gentle man, who just liked to spend the night with young boys, but did not do anything unpleasant with them – there was more than 25 years, then again during his testimony in 2005. criminal record. Since then, fans and the media have been repeating it for years. And Leave Neverland exists in the real world, where this case and these versions of events have received a lot of airtime.
But documentaries are not, by definition, journalism works. These are non-fiction movies. And Leave Neverland provides something bigger and more important than a simple reported article. It's a complex refocusing of Jackson's story, a reorientation of past stories that have already been been written and said. Jackson himself is present everywhere, in photographs and video clips, but that's not his story. We do not hear about his childhood, his rise to fame, or even his career path, if not at the crossroads of stories Robson and Safechuck.
The two men met Jackson for the first time when they were young, in the early 90s. Robson was 7 years old; Safechuck was 11 years old. Both were obsessed with Jackson's music. Both are now part of Jackson's life and they are quickly becoming part of their families' lives. Each boy went to Jackson's sumptuous estate in California, Neverland Ranch, with his family, and ended up sleeping in Jackson's room with his family nearby. Both say that Jackson finally initiated an intimate and then sexual contact with them.
The process described by each man – who occupies most of the first two-hour episode – is an intense and methodical grooming process. In the stories of Robson and Safechuck, Jackson would woo the family with gifts, fun trips and constant communication, then get stuck in between the boys and their families, spending more and more time with them, inviting them to accompany her on tour (sometimes with family members in tow, sometimes not), and molest them in bed at night. And just about every year, Robson's sister says in the movie that he hates hindsight, it seems that Jackson is picking a new "favorite" boy, while keeping the others in his orbit.
Why would a parent consent to leave his young child alone with a man he does not really know – let alone to let him sleep in the same room, unattended, over and over again – is a question to which all the people questioned Leave Neverland, including Robson and Safechuck, raise again and again. So many years later, everyone is visibly horrified. But the answer just seems to be that Jackson seemed childish, generous and generous, and of course he was nobody else; he was Michael Jackson.
For Robson's and Safechuck's moms in particular, Jackson's celebrity, coupled with everyone's self-confidence, blurred the now-obvious red flags. The two women are stunned and angry at themselves for being comfortable at the time.
Although their family members are prominent in the film, it's mostly the story of Robson and Safechuck to tell. Every man talks about the cult of heroes who turned into a special friend of Jackson, then a confidence that Jackson loved him and eventually, a confidence in his love for Jackson. Then everyone speaks of the confusion, anger and devastation that followed his replacement by another boy at the center of Jackson's attention, as well as years of psychological and emotional fallout from the alleged violence.
Perhaps the most shocking thing to watch is the internal struggles of Robson and Safechuck to verbalize, even all those years later, what was really going on during that time. A boy of 7 or 11 years is not old enough to consent to a sexual relationship with an adult man or to be really in love, and the two men know it well.
But the feelings they felt were not fake, and even after decades trying to figure out what had happened to them – something men, their wives, and their families talked about in the last hour of their life. Leave Neverland – it is difficult for them to feel as children eager to please and be valued that they are used. (The difficulty of reorienting yourself as an adult to a relationship that you consider equal when you were young is a theme that was taken up in the devastating film of last year The tale, also on HBO.)
The two men talk at length about what they felt when the charges of sexual assault against Jackson first surfaced in the early '90s, when they were still children and remained in detention. intimate and permanent contact with the singer. Robson in particular speaks with devastating details of the conflicting emotions that seem to have torn him apart, and reasons he denied having had sex with Jackson during the Jackson trial in 1993 (alongside L & # 39; Actor Macaulay Culkin, another of Jackson's close friends, who notes the film, continues to categorically deny that he was abused).
The only event in Jackson's life that receives a lot of airtime Leave Neverland It's his death in 2009, which is about three hours in the four-hour film. The remaining time is spent on how the boys, grown up, felt the effects of Jackson's death and their history with Jackson in their own lives, and the magnitude of the spinoff radius – on their romantic life with their spouses, their children and their careers. (Robson is known to many as one of the best choreographers in the world, having worked with artists like Britney Spears and N'Sync, and So you think you can dancefor which he won an Emmy in 2007.) In the end, it's hard not to be shocked that they were finally able to tell the story, as the mental and emotional trauma they describe is great.
Leave Neverland is a work of extraordinary restraint and moral urgency
It may seem ridiculous to call a four-hour film "restrained", but it is this Leave Neverland is: an extraordinary work of restraint. This is not salacious or peeping or opportunistic. There are no twists. You know where it's going from the beginning. On several occasions, the camera simply waits for the subject to formulate his thoughts and finds a way to keep talking.
But the power is undeniable. It's easy, far too easy, to dismiss the testimony of aggression survivors as "looking for attention" when you talk about it in the newspapers, or just read a short article to them. news or read the title on Facebook. Indeed, Jackson's lawsuit against HBO claims that the film and its subjects are "ready to take advantage of [Jackson’s] huge global success and take advantage of his eccentricities, "and that he is" an easy target because he is not there to defend himself ".
It does not matter that false statements of sexual assault are rare or that the reasons why survivors do not show up often immediately are well known and documented. Assuming survivors say they are looking for their fame and fortune, the reaction of those who allege sexual harassment or assault is still incredibly common, especially if it has happened many times over. years ago. And this is particularly common when, in retrospect, it seems that everyone must have known what was happening, or probably, while wanting to ignore it, since a powerful and famous man denies it and offers the proximity of glamor, glory and glory. opportunity in return.
It is therefore important, if not vital, that filmmakers get into work, not to chronicle "scandals" but to create testimonial materials. In fact, seeing Robson, Safechuck and their families talking, watching and listening while they tell the story of what was happening in the space between photographs and videos, is at least as important that the words that they speak. Humans need more than text to understand difficult truths; we need faces, emotions, expression, time to treat. Leave Neverland gives us that, with a constant and sober urgency.
Untouchable, a documentary that has Harvey Weinstein's accusers at its center, takes a similar tactic, as does Lifetime's explosive film Survive R. Kelly. Both films focus on victims of alleged serial abusers, rather than the "scandal" or the attackers themselves. This approach is much rarer than you think.
Grady written by Vox about Survive R. KellySeeing the victims and their families speak of "particularly troubling" encourages conviction and action. And writes about Untouchable, I noticed that "cinema, image and time support, can do what printing can not do. This can lead us to sit down with the victims and serve as witnesses as they recount their experiences. "
It is easy, and often desirable, to believe otherwise. You could look Leave Neverland and always choose to believe that the stories of Robson and Safechuck are elaborate canvases drawn up in such a way as to be able to benefit, in one way or another, from a brilliant and troubled dead man. Many will, no doubt, do so. But you'd better take a break to take a long, hard and uncompromising look inside.
Leave Neverland broadcast on HBO in two parts on Sunday, March 3 and Monday, March 4.