The world’s perception of the so-called “King of Pop” was forever changed in 1993 when Michael Jackson was accused of sexually abusing children. Leaving Neverland, a new two-part documentary coming to Channel 4 and HBO this spring, is delving into the pasts of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who were 10 and seven, respectively, when they were befriended by Jackson at the height of his fame.
Leaving Neverland will feature interviews with both men about their histories with Jackson and their accounts of the sexual abuse they experienced. Their voices are joined by those of their wives, mothers and siblings, as Safechuck and Robson, now in their 30s and fathers themselves, confront the toll this trauma took on their lives.
The documentary signals a possible trend in television, considering the recent airing of Lifetime’s Surviving R Kelly documentary series: that of survivors’ voices being prominently featured in mass media marketed not only as news, but also as informative entertainment. It promises a mixed bag—survivors are listened to, hopefully healing knowing that they are being believed in the #MeToo era. People bear witness to the complex cycle of abuse and learn how to better recognize the hidden violence in the world. However, media about such tragedies can easily veer into exploitative territory if handled poorly. It’s too early to know how Leaving Neverland treats the survivors who are its core subjects.
Director Dan Reed at least seems aware that this issue is at the crux of the documentary, saying in a statement:
If there’s anything we’ve learned during this time in our history, it’s that sexual abuse is complicated, and survivors’ voices need to be listened to. It took great courage for these two men to tell their stories and I have no question about their validity. I believe anyone who watches this film will see and feel the emotional toll on the men and their families and will appreciate the strength it takes to confront long-held secrets.
Both men have brought lawsuits alleging sexual abuse against Jackson’s estate since his death in 2009, but according to Radar Online, Safechuck’s case was thrown out in July 2017 due to it being past the statute of limitations. Robson’s suit was likewise dismissed by a judge in May 2015 because, as per Rolling Stone, he “waited too long to seek legal action.” Robson then brought legal action against MJJ Productions, Inc, and MJJ Ventures, Inc., corporate entities once owned by Jackson. The Independent reported in December 2017 that a judge ruled neither of these companies responsible for Robson’s “exposure to Jackson.”
Leaving Neverland will premiere on HBO and Channel Four this spring.