Leaving Neverland (HBO, Sunday March 3 and Monday March 4) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, November 18th, 2019  

Leaving Neverland

(HBO, Sunday March 3 and Monday March 4)

Mar 03, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Leaving Neverland, a sprawling account of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson, was set for controversy from the moment it premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It's the movie fans don't want to believe it and the Jackson family doesn't want you to see (they have filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO, who is premiering the film). Reports from the Sundance screening indicated a heavy presence of security and health care professionals in the lobby, ready to assist at a moment's notice.

Director Dan Reed's two-part, four-hour movie is an in-depth testimonial from Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, who claim Michael Jackson sexually abused them when they were young boys. Their relationships with the entertainer were different, as were their paths to knowing him, but the trauma inflicted upon them were the same. It's something they intended to sit with for the rest of their lives but, now in their 30s, they are ready to tell their story and find some way to start healing.

Robson grew up in Australia as a diehard Jackson fan. He entered a competition at a mall, dressed as the iconic singer and caught his attention through his dance moves. Jackson invited Robson to a concert, where he, and other children, performed on stage with him and Jackson quickly became a large part of his life. Safechuck wasn't quite as acquainted with Jackson's music but starred in a Pepsi commercial with him and struck up a friendship from that point. Jackson immersed himself in the lives of the Robson and Safechuck families, often coming to their homes and staying over multiple nights in a row. The respective families were so enamored with Jackson and couldn't believe a global superstar wanted to spend time in their homes that it became easy to overlook the abnormal behavior.

What started as a fairytale friendship with a celebrity evolved into something much deeper and disturbing as Robson and Safechuck started having sleepovers at Neverland Ranch, sharing a bed and a great deal of time with Jackson. As viewers, it's easy to throw up our hands and wonder how this isn't a red flag. Why aren't the parents intervening? It's natural to walk away with some sort of judgments but Leaving Neverland isn't about that—it's a reckoning of past events, carried over into one's future.

Leaving Neverland comes with a warning because the separate accounts from Safechuck and Robson are graphic and very specific in their retelling of what happened to them in the years spent with Jackson. There is no preparing from the details they provide and the sexual activities they faced on a night with Jackson.

Horrifying as it is, Leaving Neverland lacks a bit of nuance, rarely coming at these allegations from any sides other than the subjects. There is footage of Jackson denying initial charges but the movie primarily focuses on Robson and Safechucks stories, which are credible and damning without ever feeling exploitive for the purpose of the documentary. They are fully aware the scrutiny they could face, especially after vehemently testifying Jackson did nothing inappropriate with them at different trials, but have finally found the courage to tell their stories. Reed pulls away from the talking heads too much with inserted stock footage and countless aerial shots, often feeling unneeded as transitions in telling these stories. It seems like a distraction in a movie that requires our focus.

In 2005, Jackson was cleared of all charges levied against him, so Robson and Safechuck's accusations remain alleged. While Jackson has been dead for almost a decade, Robson and Safechuck aren't looking for any kind of retribution in coming forward; they're just looking to be heard.

Part One of Leaving Neverland premieres on HBO tonight (March 3) and Part Two premieres tomorrow (March 4).

(www.hbo.com/documentaries/leaving-neverland)

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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