“Leaving Neverland” demonstrates how not to make a documentary

Jackson Stone, Staff Writer

On Sunday, Mar. 3, the highly controversial documentary “Leaving Neverland” premiered on HBO, earning the third-highest ratings for an HBO documentary since 2010. The film, which was directed by Dan Reed, centers around two men who both knew pop icon Michael Jackson as children and allege that the singer engaged in sexual misconduct with them over many years.

This is not first time that Jackson, who died in 2009, has been accused of sexual misconduct with children. In 1993, he was hit with bombshell allegations from the family of Jordan Chandler, who was friends with Jackson as a child. Jackson eventually settled with the family for an undisclosed sum of money without the case ever going to trial. In 2003, Jackson was once again faced with allegations, this time from the family of another young boy, Gavin Arvizo. That time, the case went to court, with Jackson being found not guilty on all 14 counts. His home, the famed Neverland Ranch, was raided numerous times by both Santa Barbara police and the FBI, with no evidence of molestation ever turning up.

Now comes “Leaving Neverland,” which tells the story of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom met Jackson as children and say that he abused them over the course of many years. Perhaps the most ironic part of this documentary is its subjects themselves-both Robson and Safechuck testified as adults in defense of Jackson during his 2005 trial, stating then that he had never done anything wrong to them. The two were not forced or even asked to testify in 2005, doing so on their own will. Now, they claim that Jackson brainwashed them into thinking that the alleged sexual abuse was really acts of love, and that they only now realize that Jackson behaved inappropriately.

One would be hard-pressed to find a documentary that is more one-sided than “Leaving Neverland.” The only people interviewed throughout the entirety of the documentary are Robson and Safechuck and their families. They did not attempt to interview Jackson’s family, lawyers, or the many people who spent time with Jackson as children, such as Macaulay Culkin and Corey Feldman, who maintain that he never did anything wrong to them. It is no wonder that the film only has negative things to say about the pop star-it only tells one side of the story.

A common response about the documentary is that it is simply a money grab for both HBO and the accusers. While Robson and Safechuck claim that they received no money for the documentary, they are still surely aware that it will open up plenty of speaking and book-writing opportunities for them that will funnel in money down the road. Furthermore, Robson sued Jackson’s estate in 2013 for alleged abuse for hundreds of millions of dollars, only to have the case thrown out by a judge who ruled that Robson came forward with allegations too long after the alleged abuse took place.

The documentary unsurprisingly neglects to mention several crucial facts about the nature of the allegations against Jackson. At the time of Jackson’s death, Robson attended his funeral and also attempted to direct a Michael Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil show in 2013. Here is a video of Robson dancing to Jackson’s music in 2013. It was only shortly after Robson lost the directing job that his allegations against Jackson’s estate began. He began by trying to sell his story to a publishing company in hopes of a book deal. After no publisher made any offer, he then decided to go public with the allegations. Ironically, in the documentary, Safechuck’s mother claims that she danced with joy at the news of Jackson’s death in 2009 because he couldn’t harm more children. However, Safechuck didn’t even come forward with allegations until after Robson did, which was four years after Jackson’s death. The documentary’s timeline and “facts” are, well, yikes.

“Leaving Neverland” currently holds only a 34% likability rating on Google, but that hasn’t stopped notable Hollywood personalities from siding with the alleged victims. Oprah Winfrey, who Michael Jackson let into his house to conduct the most-watched interview of all time in 1993, interviewed Robson and Safechuck after the premiere of the documentary and has stated she believes Jackson was guilty, despite the lack of evidence.

In a social media age where facts often take a backseat to attention-grabbing headlines, it is only the natural next step that this kind of corruption and wild accusing would make its way into the film industry in the form of this documentary. The documentary’s view is so biased and its sources so unreliable that it serves as a true embarrassment in the way of filmmaking. There are real victims of sexual abuse in the world, and if someone wanted to bring attention to the way in which certain famous figures use their power to abuse others, there are plenty of examples that would be better to use than Michael Jackson. There is real evidence to support allegations against people like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein (a personal friend of Winfrey whom Winfrey has yet to speak out against publicly), and R. Kelly. You would be better off listening to the victims of those men and other proven predators than you would be watching “Leaving Neverland.”