Michael Jackson Doc 'Leaving Neverland' Describes Sexual Assault Allegations In Graphic Detail
Friday brought something we don't usually see at the Sundance Film Festival: a bomb-sniffing dog.
There was a heavy police presence at the premiere of Leaving Neverland at Park City's Egyptian Theatre. It's a documentary about Michael Jackson's alleged sexual abuse, focusing on two young boys — it comes to HBO in March, as well as Channel 4 in the U.K.
Fans of the late music superstar have reportedly been threatening the festival, ever since it was announced that the two-part film by British director Dan Reed would play Sundance as a Special Event. But in the end, there were only two women before the movie started protesting with signs expressing their love of Michael Jackson — though by the time it got underway, another 20 or so showed up, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Sundance staff were prepared for any emotional issues the film could trigger in the audience. In Leaving Neverland, two men in their 30s recount how Jackson befriended them as young boys, showered them with love, attention, and gifts — then allegedly sexually abused them for years.
In the film, they describe those sexual encounters graphically, going into intimate detail about what they allege happened to them.
When John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, took the stage before the screening began, he made the following announcement:
"You never kind of know what a movie like this is going to do to you. And at any point during the film if you feel uncomfortable — if you feel overwhelmed — we have health care professionals here from the state of Utah, and all you have to do is go out into the lobby and find a staff member."
Cooper went on to acknowledge that attending this screening wasn't like seeing any other film at the festival.
"Thanks for coming out for this," Cooper said. "It's an important film. I'm really proud of this audience for coming out for this."
Leaving Neverland consists of two two-hour-long episodes, intercutting archival footage with present day interviews with James "Jimmy" Safechuck and his mother, as well as Wade Robson and Robson's mother, sister, and brother.
The film tracks how Michael Jackson cultivated relationships with these boys and their families. Then, as the boys became the focus over time, the families were sidelined — and the sexual abuse became a larger part of the equation. The "relationships" went on for years.
Safechuck first met the pop icon when he was 8 years old and appeared in a Pepsi commercial with him. In the film, Safechuck and his mother describe Jackson as almost being like a boy himself, who looked to Jimmy to be his best friend. He even spent the night at Safechuck's family home in Simi Valley, with his mother washing Jackson's clothes. By the time the boy was 10 years old, he was on tour as a dancer in Jackson's show — and one night in Paris, the sexual abuse began.
For Wade Robson, Jackson was his hero. At 5 years old, he memorized all of the star's signature dances and got the chance to meet him after winning a dance contest when Jackson was touring Robson's homeland of Australia.
The sexual abuse began when Robson and his family visited Jackson in California when he was 7 years old. Amy Kaufman sums up a brief history of the abuse claims by Robson and Safechuck in the Los Angeles Times.
At press time, Sundance had only scheduled two screenings of Leaving Neverland, but we were told that more could be added if there was high demand. However, between trying to find a four-hour hole in the packed schedule and the cost of all the extra security, that may not come to be.