Michael Jackson has been dead for nearly a decade, and when he died many of us stopped talking about some of his more controversial life choices—such as sharing his bed with young children or splurging on families with young boys at his jaw-dropping Neverland Ranch.
Or at least we stopped talking about all of that “Wacko Jacko” business until the two-part documentary Leaving Neverland dropped last January at the Sundance Film Festival. The four-hour offering, which begins this weekend on Crave, tackles the story of two men, renowned choreographer Wade Robson and James “Jimmy” Safechuck, who each claim they were sexually abused by the legendary pop singer from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.
Since coming forward, the men—along with film director Dan Reed—have come under fire from the Jackson family and his estate, which is even going so far as to sue HBO in the U.S. for what they’re calling “a one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself.”
Yowza. While the courts can decide on that one, we’ve seen the doc and we have to say that a lot of what it unveils is disturbing, to say the least. Here we break down just some of the things you’ll learn in watching it… if you have the stomach for it, that is.
These stories are stomach-churning
It’s always hard to listen to stories of abuse, but it’s especially rough to hear people recall these types of stories when they involve children. Robson and Safechuck were 7 and 10 when they claim the abuse started, and it lasted for years—sometimes right next to where their parents were sleeping. But the film doesn’t just recall the physical abuse, it also goes into the mental, grooming, side of it. That includes Jackson supposedly telling the boys they’d go to jail if anyone were to ever find out, and them eventually feeling “replaced” by new young men—like Macaulay Culkin—who befriended Jackson.
Their parents were active participants
Robson and Safechuck’s mothers are also featured heavily throughout the film, and although they had no clue the abuse was supposedly happening they were also huge enablers in making it possible. They would drop everything so that their sons could hang out with MJ–and further their own young careers–and allow them to sleep over for days at a time without any real supervision. Why? Well if you’ve seen the chilling Netflix tale Abducted in Plain Sight there are some definite parallels.
Jackson befriended the entire families and had special relationships with the mothers in particular, building an intimate level of trust. Not only that, but he was a celebrity who was familiar in almost every home across the globe, so these people already felt like they knew him when he entered their lives. The level of psychological control he seemed to have over these people as a result is mind-boggling.
These boys denied the abuse for years
In 1993 when 13-year-old Jordan “Jordy” Chandler and his parents accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing him, it became one of the most controversial cases in America. Jackson always maintained his innocence, and had some of his other friends speak out on his behalf. Robson and Safechuck were among them—in the documentary they explain they had been groomed to deny the truth and to seek out Jackson’s approval, and by lying about what happened they believed they were solidifying their special friendship with the man.
Jackson’s settlement–and lawyer–complicated things
Eventually Jackson settled the Chandler case out of court for $23 million, which led to even more controversy. For Robson and Safechuck’s mothers, paying that hefty sum rather than spending more in court seemed like a reasonable enough explanation from Jackson, especially since they themselves figured if it were their kids no amount of money would make it right. Therefore, they felt, the Chandlers really were just digging for money.
It’s also worth noting that one of Jackson’s lawyers in all of this was none other than Johnnie Cochrane, the man who famously defended O.J. Simpson.
This story is far from over
The interviews with Robson and Safechuck are graphic to say the least. They hold nothing back in their unflinching and consistent accounts of abuse, to the point where we don’t think we’ll ever see Jackson the same way again.
The men aren’t done telling their stories either. Following the airing of Leaving Neverland, Oprah Winfrey herself is sitting down with the guys (in front of an audience full of abuse survivors) to interview them more about their experiences, what they hope to achieve by sharing their stories, and what steps they’re taking next.
Meanwhile, Reed has said that he’d be open to doing a sequel that gives Jordan Chandler and another former Jackson accuser, Gavin Arvizo, a platform to tell the public their version of events. So far neither one of them have come forward again, but given all the controversy this film is causing, it may just be a matter of time.
And so the story continues…
Leaving Neverland debuts Sunday, March 3 at 8 p.m. ET on CraveTV. Part two debuts Monday, March 4 at 8 p.m. ET. Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland airs immediately after the film’s conclusion on March 4 at 10 p.m. ET.