Everything We Learnt From ‘Leaving Neverland’, HBO’s Shattering Michael Jackson Documentary

Warning: This article discusses allegations of child sexual abuse.

Wade Robson and Michael Jackson.

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Leaving Neverland has arrived, and the public will reckon with it for years to come.

— Content warning: this article contains graphic discussions of alleged child sexual abuse. —

Dan Reed’s two-part documentary centres on two men, Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused and groomed as children by Michael Jackson during the late ’80s and early ’90s.

After premiering at Sundance Film Festival this January, Leaving Neverland debuted in the US on HBO last week — and will air in Australia on Channel 10 this Friday and Saturday (and will be available on 10 Play from Friday).

Much like Surviving R. Kelly, the four-hour documentary has sent shock-waves through Jackson’s fanbase, as the world reconsiders its relationship to the King Of Pop.

Leaving Neverland has been accused of being ‘flawed’ and ‘contextless’ in reviews, as it is not a work that pleads both sides. Instead, it paints in painful detail not just Safechuck and Robson’s allegations, but how their lives have been shaped and twisted by them.

For the record, Michael Jackson’s estate calls the film “shameful”, categorically denies any allegations made in the film, and is suing HBO for US $100 million.

As a warning, these allegations are quite graphic. They paint a picture of a man who used his position to gain trust with families and abused it, then create a toxic environment of jealousy where the two children were eager to please, but would be discarded as they grew older.

Jimmy Safechuck (centre) and Michael Jackson. Photo by Alan Light/Creative Commons.

Jimmy Safechuck (centre) and Michael Jackson. Photo by Alan Light/Creative Commons.

What Are Jimmy Safechuck’s Allegations?

Safechuck first met Michael Jackson in December 1986, when he was 9, on the set of a Pepsi commercial. Safechuck played a boy who explored Jackson’s backstage dressing room, copying his moves before meeting the star.

On-set, they hung out in his trailer: Safechuck’s mother Stephanie allowed it after being assured by a hairstylist that Jackson was “like a little 9-year-old boy”. Jackson routinely visited the family and invited them on holidays, and Stephanie began to view him as her own son.

Safechuck alleges the sexual abuse began on a subsequent family-and-Jackson trip to Paris, where Jackson ‘taught’ him how to masturbate after Stephanie allowed the two to sleep in a bed together. Safechuck alleges it happened so much that his penis swelled and Jackson dipped it in warm water so he was able to pee.

“It sounds sick, but it’s kind of like when you’re first dating somebody,” Safechuck says. “You do a lot of it.”

Safechuck alleges the sexual abuse continued on holidays, visits to Neverland, and at Jackson’s apartment in LA’s Century City until November ’92. Acts alleegedly included kissing, nipple tweaking, oral sex (occurring at least once, allegedly, when Safechuck was sleeping), and anal sex.

“It sounds sick, but it’s kind of like when you’re first dating somebody,” Safechuck says. “You do a lot of it.”

He says he was taught “drills” to avoid getting caught, including how to get dressed without making noise, and soon began to view encounters with “excitement” due to the “dangerous” element of it. Jackson allegedly told him not to tell anyone, or their lives would be “over”.

On visits to Neverland, a bell alarm system prevented anyone from intruding, and Robson alleges sexual acts took place in spaces that were difficult to enter quickly and quietly, such as bedroom closets and attics.

In one section, Safechuck alleges that he and Jackson exchanged vows and shopped for rings together.

“We had this mock wedding ceremony,” Safechuck says. “We did this in his bedroom. We filled out some vows and it was like we were bonded forever. It felt good. And the ring was nice. It has a row of diamonds with a gold band.”

Safechuck still has the ring, and shows it to the camera — he said as he got older, he would be given jewellery in exchange for sex.

What Are Wade Robson’s Allegations?

Wade Robson first met Michael Jackson in November 1987 at age 5, after a concert in Brisbane. As a budding and talented dancer, he was invited to perform on-stage the next night.

Robson’s family visited Los Angeles two years later to help his career, and reached out to Jackson, who was understandably viewed as an incredible contact.

He invited the family to Neverland, and Robson (7) and his sister, Chantal (10), spent the night in Jackson’s room. But Robson says it was when he was left alone with Jackson for five days when he was first sexually assaulted.

Robson says Jackson told him they were “brought together by God”, and that sexual acts were a way “to show love”. Robson’s details of the sexual acts are similar to Safechuck’s, including kissing, nipple tweaking, oral sex and rimming.

It is worth noting that Safechuck and Robson did not meet until HBO’s screening last week.

When the Robsons returned to Australia, Jackson called every day for two years, according to Robson’s mother, Joy. When the family moved to the United States to further Robson’s burgeoning dance career, he says he entered a “regular sexual routine”with Jackson.

Robson alleges the sexual acts became increasingly intense as he aged, and Jackson began to supply him with alcohol. He says their last sexual encounter happened when he was 14, after he bled when Jackson attempted to penetrate him.

Wade Robson and Michael Jackson.

Wade Robson and Michael Jackson.

Who Else?

According to both Robson and Safechuck, new boys would pop up in Jackson’s life regularly, leaving them feeling jealous and eager to please or impress next time they met.

They also both allege that teenage and prepubescent boys would attend alcohol and drug-fuelled parties at Jackson’s Century City apartment, where the singer would select boys and take them into private rooms.

As they aged, they said they were ‘replaced’ — Macaulay Culkin and Brett Barnes are given as examples, both of whom continue to deny being sexually abused by Jackson.

Both Safechuck and Robson previously testified in defence of Jackson in 1993, when 13-year-old Jordan Chandler alleged Jackson sexually abused him. That case was settled out of court for US $23 million ($32,487,700), and in 2003, Robson again testified in defence of Jackson after he was accused of molesting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo. He was found not guilty.

In 2013, Robson sued the estate, claiming he had been abused and previously lied in court; a year later, Safechuck followed suit. Both claims were dismissed due to statutory limitations post Jackson’s 2009 death, though that has been appealed for both cases.

The Aftershock

For all its detail, Leaving Neverland centres not on the horrific allegations, but the aftereffects of them. Unlike the allegations, these aftereffects cannot be surmised. They need to be seen to be felt.

We learn how both men come to reckon with their alleged abuse and step forward. Depression and anxiety plagued their lives, and complex feelings towards Jackson continue, with both expressing that they continue to feel affection towards the man they viewed as a father, friend and lover.

The film also dives into the big question you’re wondering: how could their parents let this happen? Leaving Neverland interviews both Robson and Safechuck’s mothers, and is an absolute searing inditement of their actions. According to the doco, Safechuck’s mother was motivated by a sense Jackson helped their family stay strong, while Robson knew Jackson was great for Wade’s career. Which he was: Robson is a successful choreographer, his highs and lows intertwined with Jackson.

But Leaving Neverland doesn’t just cast blame: it reaches out, and considers the complicity of a world willing to look the other way. As we learn of more men who have allegedly used their power and talent to abuse, cultural complicity is a thesis that has become far too familiar.

Writing for The New York Times, Wesley Morris says that it “was so easy to fall” for Michael Jackson’s charm, comparing the belief in his innocence to a resistance to question a ‘faith’. In music, Jackson stands as a God, one with his own mythology as the infallible King Of Pop. But belief doesn’t need to be blind; ideally, it should constantly question. And Leaving Neverland provides many to ask.

Leaving Neverland will air on Channel 10 Friday 8 March and Saturday 9 March at 9pm, and will be available to stream on 10 Play from Friday 8 March.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.