Described as “shockingly unethical” by journalist Charles Thomson, who has written extensively about Michael Jackson’s treatment in the media, and full of “lying” by documentary maker and media analyst John Ziegler, Dan Reed has attempted to defend Leaving Neverland amidst growing condemnation.
Unsurprisingly, Leaving Neverland has made an explosive splash. Everyone has an opinion on the King of Pop and many of those opinions are not savoury. And after viewing Reed’s film, those on the fence will have the same conclusion as Michael Jackson’s detractors: that he did it.
Despite being completely one-sided, and by the director’s own admission, having none of its facts verified, Reed has attempted to defend his two-part film about sexual abuse allegations against Jackson. For those that don’t know, Leaving Neverland, features the stories of two men, each of whom claim to have been molested by the pop icon throughout their adolescent years.
These are allegations have been repeatedly denied by the Jackson family. Wade Robson, one of the alleged victims, met Jackson after being crowned the winner of a dance contest in his native home of Australia at the age of five. James Safechuck, the other alleged victim, was filming an advertisement for Pepsi with the singer just before his ninth birthday, which is how they encountered each other.
The men said Jackson had warned them continuously to keep the abuse a secret when they were children, while also allegedly pressuring them to defend him in any sexual abuse cases that were present at the time of his life.
Both Robson and Safechuck have been denounced by the family of Michael Jackson and by loyal fans of the artist as “opportunists” and “admitted liars” who aim to get life changing finances from their plot against the singer. Jackson’s estate has sued HBO and called the documentary, “A one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself.”
The documentary sought no comment from either the estate or the Jackson family, which is one of its main criticisms, however, director Reed addressed said criticism by – surprisingly – stating: “This isn’t a film about Michael Jackson.”
Instead, Reed insisted (On CBS This Morning): “It’s a film about Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two little boys to whom this dreadful thing happened long ago. It’s the story of their coming to terms with that over two decades and the story of their families. As far as including other eyewitnesses to that, there was no one else in the room, I don’t believe, when Wade was being molested by Michael or when James was having sex with Michael.”
Both the controversy, and the notoriety of Leaving Neverland, were expected, but perhaps not quite to this extent. Reed has expressed that due to the allegations being directed against Jackson himself, the documentary included some of the things he said whilst he was still alive, along with previous statements from his lawyers.
He also expressed: “What was important for me was to have eyewitnesses or people who could add something to the story. I don’t know that the Jackson family has any direct knowledge of what happened to Wade and James. I don’t believe they do. If they do, then they should come forward.
“We know that the family and the estate and Jackson during his lifetime and his lawyers all deny that any sexual abuse took place, and those views are strongly represented in the film. We give those views a lot of time in the film on screen and we have people casting doubt on Wade’s change of heart.”
Both in previous televised interviews and in court, Robson repeatedly denied any molesting having taken place between him and Michael Jackson. However, in 2013, after suffering from several nervous breakdowns, Robson decided to tell what he claims to be the truth – the real story. This was brought up in a new lawsuit against the Jackson estate.
It was twelve months later when Safechuck decided to take the same steps, though he had also previously denied allegations of abuse between himself and Michael. Both cases were dismissed due to the statue of limitations, but this is something both men are now appealing.
Reed has been questioned as to why the men originally denied accusations and have decided to change their appeal after so many years, to which Reed has declared the population needs to be more understanding, and empathetic, to the bond that was forged between the boys and the singer – a bond that he believed was deeply complex.
“What people find it difficult to understand – and what I’ve always, making this film, found it sort of difficult to understand and very shocking – is the deep attachment formed between the abuser and the abused with this kind of grooming paedophile activity. So, both Wade and James were in love with Michael, even after the sexual activity stopped. They continued loving him and he was a close friend, particularly to Wade for many, many years.”
While this love from both Robson and Safechuck may seem strange, both men adamantly believe that Michael was also in love with them, just as much as they were in love with him.
Not only does the documentary discuss the stories of the accusers, it includes various graphic accounts of the alleged encounters and an abundance of unsettling, disturbing details. In 2005, Jackson was acquitted of molesting a 13-year-old boy, and Reed has expressed that part of vetting those details included a “deep dive” into the other child sex abuse allegations against the singer that occurred in both 1993 and 2003.
Reed also regarded that the graphic details were necessary for people to understand the gravity of the accusations surrounding the now deceased King of Pop.
“I read a lot of the witness statements there and spoke to a lot of the investigators and I didn’t find anything that contradicted or cast any doubt whatsoever on Wade and James’s accounts.
“I think for many years Jackson got away with this image of being a bit of a child himself and being very affectionate with children and I wanted to make sure that people understood this wasn’t over-enthusiastic kissing or cuddling. This was sex. This was the kind of sex adults have, but he was having it with a little child.”
Reed’s work as a documentarian previously had a primary focus on crime and terrorism. He insists that he had no prior views or judgements on Jackson before starting work on this project – and that he came across the concept of it by accident.
“I certainly didn’t want to stake any reputation on a story that didn’t have a strong factual basis or that wasn’t true. So I did look, you know, throughout the two years of making the film, I looked for anything that could cast doubt or undermine Wade and James’ story. I found nothing at all. I found their stories to be very, very consistent. I found their families’ stories to be consistent with what they had told me.
“I was sitting down with a Channel 4 executive in the UK for breakfast one day and we said what are the big stories out there that people kind of think they know but maybe don’t really know and had never sort of been conclusively examined and Michael Jackson was one of those. I had someone do some research for three weeks. In a footnote in a forum was this reference to Wade and James litigating against the Michael Jackson estate. And that’s how I stumbled across this story and here we are now.”
Neither Robson nor Safechuck have been paid for their participation in the film, and according to Reed have “no future, past or present interest” in it.
Now, instead of bringing any clarity to the questions he posed himself, Reed has accomplished nothing more than posing new ones.