Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson documentary shocks audiences at Sundance Film Festival

'Whatever you thought you knew or were aware of, the content of this is more disturbing than you could imagine'

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Saturday 26 January 2019 14:55
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Michael Jackson documentary 'Leaving Neverland' screened at Sundance Film Festival 2019

A controversial new Michael Jackson documentary is already causing a strong reaction after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Leaving Neverland is a four-hour, two-part film about sexual abuse allegations against the late King of Pop. It features interviews from two men – James Safechuck and Wade Robson – and their families, who detail “a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception, documenting the power of celebrity that allowed a revered figure to infiltrate the lives of starstruck children and their parents”.

During a brief intermission at the world premiere screening, several reporters shared their thoughts about the film.

“On a 10-min break halfway through Sundance’s 4-hour Michael Jackson child sex abuse documentary,” Daily Beast senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon tweeted. “Whatever you thought you knew or were aware of, the content of this is more disturbing than you could imagine. And again, we’re only halfway through.”

“By the time the credits rolled, the energy in the room hovered somewhere between queasiness over what we’d just witnessed and the sense that some sort of turning point about how these accusations play into Jackson’s legacy had been reached,” a Rolling Stone report said.

“By offering these men a forum, this doc has clearly chosen a side. Yet the thoroughness with which it details this history of allegations, and the way it personalises them to a startling degree, is hard to shake off. It does not discount what these men say, nor does it leave out the fact recent lawsuits muddy the waters a bit.”

IndieWire film critic David Ehrlich proclaimed he was going to need 400 showers to ever feel clean again, while Variety’s Matt Donnelly reported that healthcare professionals had been installed inside the cinema to help audience members who were upset by the film’s disturbing content.

Meanwhile, outside the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah, several outlets reported that two protesters had gathered to proclaim Jackson’s innocence and were met by police.

Ahead of the film’s world premiere on Friday, Jackson’s estate issued a strong rebuke of the film. “This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the statement said.

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“Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception,’ filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.

“This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”

Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges in a 2005 trial. In 1993, the singer was publicly accused of molesting an underage boy before agreeing to a financial settlement. Lawsuits filed by Robson and Safechuck were both dismissed.

In May of 2017, Jackson’s estate came out against an ABC News special, The Last Days of Michael Jackson, for being what it called another crass and unauthorised attempt to exploit the life, music and image of Michael Jackson without respect for Michael’s legacy, intellectual property rights or his children.

Leaving Neverland is set to premiere on Channel 4 and HBO this spring.

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