Michael Jackson child sex abuse documentary 'Leaving Neverland' horrifies critics

29 January 2019, 13:56

Sam  Prance

By Sam Prance

'Leaving Neverland' premiered at Sundance Film Festival on Friday...

The 2019 Sundance Film Festival kicked off last Thursday (Jan 24th) and one of its most anticipated films is already sparking huge discourse both on and offline.

On Friday, Sundance premiered Dan Reed's new documentary about Michael Jackson's alleged cases of child sex abuse. The feature has been praised by critics but slammed by Michael's family and fans who are protesting the movie.

The film tells the stories of two men (Wade Robson, Jimmy Safechuck) who were allegedly groomed and sexually abused by Michael from the ages of 7 and 10. In it, Robson and Safechuck give firsthand accounts of the abuse they allegedly received. The film also features interviews with their families and explores the ways in which the alleged abuse has affected their lives to this day.


Michael Jackson fans at Sundance protesting the Leaving Neverland documentary
Michael Jackson fans at Sundance protesting the Leaving Neverland documentary. Picture: Ron Galella/WireImage via Getty Images // Danny Moloshok/AP/Press Association Images

What are the critics saying about 'Leaving Neverland'?

During the Sundance screening of the new film, critic Kevin Fallon tweeted: "On a 10-min break halfway through Sundance’s 4-hour Michael Jackson child sex abuse documentary. Whatever you thought you knew or were aware of, the content of this is more disturbing than you could imagine. And again, we’re only halfway through." He then labeled it: "horrifying, essential viewing".

Writing about the film for The Daily Beast, Kevin stated: “Robson and Safechuck recount incidents of masturbation, kissing, oral sex, being forced to caress Jackson’s nipples, bending over for him while he pleasured himself, and being coaxed into painful anal sex.” He then adds "Both admit to bouts of depression and panic attacks that followed them into adulthood".

Reviewing Leaving Neverland for The Hollywood Reporter, Daniel Fienberg wrote: "It's doubtful you'll feel exactly the same after watching [it]" and David Fear of Rolling Stone revealed that Reed, Robson and Safechuck all received a "minute long standing ovation" after it aired. He also claimed that a "bombshell had been dropped".

What are Michael Jackson's family saying?

The Jackson family estate has now released a statement via Rolling Stone in response to the documentary saying: "Leaving Neverland isn’t a documentary, it is the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death. The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact".

They then added: "These claims were the basis of lawsuits filed by these two admitted liars which were ultimately dismissed by a judge. The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred." Not only that but they also went on to suggest that the accusations were simply about "money" and called Robson and Safechuck "perjurors".

It is true that Robson and Safechuck both filed lawsuits alleging that Michael Jackson had sexually abused them (in 2013 and 2014 respectively) and that they were later dismissed in court. However, time and time again the justice system fails people who've been sexually abused and Robson and Safechuck maintain their allegations.

Leaving Neverland will premiere on HBO in the US and Channel 4 in the UK this spring.

If you or anyone you know has been sexual assaulted you can visit RAINN for support.