Leaving Neverland, a controversial new documentary detailing allegations of sexual abuse against Michael Jackson, is making its television debut on HBO this week. The four-hour film directed by Dan Reed will air over two nights, starting Sunday, March 3 and ending Monday, March 4, immediately followed by a new sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey and the film’s two accusers, James Safechuck and Wade Robson.
In the film, Safechuck and Robson -- now married adults with sons of their own -- claim they engaged in sexual relationships with Jackson that started when both were underage, 10 and 7 years old, respectively. Through on-camera interviews, they recall how they each first met the music icon and later, became closer and closer with the pop star.
Debuting at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the film was met with intense reactions and protests. “The content of this is more disturbing than you could imagine,” Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast revealed on Twitter at the time, while IndieWire film critic David Ehrlich proclaimed he needed “400 showers to ever feel clean again.”
The film was also met with intense pushback from the Jackson family and Michael’s estate, which has issued strong rebukes of the film to ET, calling it a “lurid production.”
“This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations,” their statement read. “It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
In the weeks leading up to Leaving Neverland’s premiere, the estate also filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO, claiming the premium cable network violated a non-disparagement clause in a 1992 contract it had with Jackson and that the documentary is nothing but “unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself.”
Three of Michael's brothers -- Tito, Marlon and Jackie -- as well as his nephew Taj appeared on CBS This Morning on Wednesday to slam the documentary despite not having seen the film. “We know our brother. Michael wouldn't do anything like that,” Marlon said. “And then he waits until after the passing of Michael, 10 years later, just to come out and state this? They're still in court with the estate suing them for hundreds of millions of dollars.”
While Safechuck and Robson previously testified in Jackson’s defense during a 1993 civil suit, both express regrets in the film for that decision and have since come forward with their own allegations of extended abuse. Robson was also served a subpoena and testified at Jackson’s 2003 criminal case.
“I can’t imagine if I was Gavin [Arvizo] or Jordy [Chandler] at that time, you know, no justice being served and not being believed by so many people,” Robson says. “For Gavin, I wish I was at a place [where] I could tell the truth and be a comrade with him, you know, stopping Michael and stopping a lot of other kids from being abused. I just wasn’t ready, I wasn’t able, when I was 11 and when I was 22.”
During an interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning, Safechuck says he believes there are more victims out there. But only they can decide whether or not to speak out. “I do think there are others out there, but I also don't expect them to just come out now that we're coming out,” Safechuck said. “It's such a difficult thing to do, to come out. You have to do it when you're ready.”
While Jackson maintained his innocence before his death and his estate has since defended him, Safechuck and Robson’s allegations are a searing indictment of the singer. Below are some of the most shocking allegations made against Jackson, with the explicit language used in the film cleaned up for sensitivities.
Jackson allegedly engaged in various and escalating sexual acts with underage boys.
The sexual misconduct wasn’t immediate, both men claim intimate contact between Jackson and them started with hugs and hand holding. “It seemed normal,” Robson says, but then “it escalated rapidly.”
Both Safechuck and Robson claim that Jackson would engage in kissing, fondling, mutual masturbation, oral sex, and eventually, he attempted to have anal sex with each of them.
Years into the alleged sexual relationships, Jackson introduced porn and alcohol. “I remember getting really drunk,” Safechuck claims.
Neverland Ranch was one of two locations Jackson allegedly used to engage in sexual activity with boys.
Neverland, Jackson’s famous California ranch featuring zoo animals and amusement rides, was the location for most of the alleged sexual activity. Safechuck claims that incidents took place in multiple rooms and locations all over the property.
But that was not the only place that Jackson would invite the boys over to stay with him. At times, Robson and Safechuck claim they stayed the night at another apartment located along the Avenue of the Stars in Century City, Los Angeles.
Jackson allegedly staged a mock wedding with one of his victims and professed his love for both.
Jackson pretended to exchange vows with Safechuck. “We had this mock wedding ceremony. We did this in his bedroom,” he claims, before pulling out a wedding ring -- “a row of diamonds in a gold band” -- that Jackson gave him.
Jewelry also became a way Jackson alleged controlled Safechuck, who would have to perform sexual acts in order to “earn the gift,” he says.
“He started talking about how much he loves me,” Robson recalls.
Safechuck claims that while holding hands he and Jackson would scratch the other’s palm to let them know they were thinking of each other. “It’s just a very accepted way of expressing your love -- that’s what he would say,” Safechuck says.
Jackson allegedly created distance between his victims and their families.
Both physical and emotional distance was put between them and their families, the men claim. “At the same time as the sexual relationship is growing, he’s working on pushing you away from your parents and pushing you away from everybody else and it feels more like it’s just you and him,” Safehuck says. “You start to think that your parents are bad and that Michael is good.”
“He started calling me son. And for me, the idea of Michael Jackson being my dad was the most incredible in the world,” Robson claims.
In an interview with Safechuck’s mother, she recalls how her hotel room would physically get moved further and further away from Jackson’s, where Safechuck would stay over during the Bad Tour.
Jackson allegedly staged his public relationships with women.
During the time of the alleged sexual relationships with Safechuck and Robson, Jackson had public relationships with Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe, eventually marrying and divorcing both women.
Safechuck claims that these relationships were shams designed by Jackson. “I remember Michael saying to me that he’s going to have to public relationships with women so people don’t think anything. He would always say he’s going to get married, he’s going to have to go get married but it won’t mean anything,” Safechuck recalls.
Jackson would allegedly run drills and installed alarms to avoid detection.
Also during the Bad Tour, Safechuck claims that Jackson would “run drills with me, where we’d be in the hotel room and he would pretend like somebody is coming in and you had to get dressed as fast as possible without making noise.” Not getting caught was “fundamental,” he alleges.
Safechuck was the first guest to go to Jackson's Neverland home; and he would spend weeks at a time there. His mother would sleep in one of the guest rooms while Safechuck stayed with Jackson in the main house. He claims there were bells and “alarms” set up in the hallway leading up to the singer's room so they knew when people were coming.
Jackson allegedly threatened that he and his victims would go to jail if anyone found out.
Robson claims that Jackson would tell him that “other people are ignorant and they would never understand” their relationship. “If they ever found out what we were doing -- about this sexual stuff -- he and I would be pulled apart and never see each other again. And that he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives,” Robson says.
Safechuck also remembers similar veiled threats about being exposed. “It was very much a secret and he would tell me that if anybody found out his life would be over and my life would be over. And that’s something he tells you over and over again,” he alleges.
Jackson allegedly pressured the boys to testify in his defense.
In 1993, Jordan Chandler came forward with allegations of child sexual abuse by Jackson and a civil lawsuit was filed against the singer.
After allegations became public, the police questioned Robson and he denied any wrongdoing by Jackson. “[As] soon as the cops started asking me these questions, the first thing that came to mind for me was everything Michael started saying to me when I was seven -- you know, if anyone ever found out that we were doing any sort of things, these sexual things, that he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives. It was terrifying,” Robson recalls, claiming that Jackson told him to lie. “That’s what I did: I lied.”
Safechuck claims he was rehearsed by Jackson’s lawyers. “They did a mock interview, kind of role-playing the policeman or lawyer. ‘We know you guys have done this. We have photos, so just tell us about it.’ ‘That’s a ploy, they don’t know, they don’t have photos so just tell them no.’ That’s the golden rule, just don’t tell them and they don’t actually know or they can’t prove it,” Safechuck says.
“He asked me to testify -- there was like, a pretrial, so I went to court. I remember going in there and being very robotic. Like I said, I rehearsed it so much that it was just going through the motions. They asked and I said no, of course. Just like, part of my job, to do that for Michael,” Safechuck continues.
In 2003, new allegations surfaced and Jackson was charged with molesting a child. Taken to court, Jackson pleaded not guilty on all charges.
During the trial, Safechuck claims that Jackson attempted to get him and his parents to testify in his defense once again. When Safechuck declined, he says Jackson “got really angry at me and he threatened me. I had never seen him this angry and it was like, ‘OK, you’re an enemy now,’” Safechuck recalls. “He threatened me with his lawyers and said I had perjured myself years ago.”
Robson also remembers being asked to defend Jackson and also told him he didn’t want to be involved in the trial. “At some point, I worked up the courage to tell Michael I don’t want to testify. I remember silence on the phone for awhile. He said, ‘I know. I understand. It’s really hard to go through this with all the media and everything. But we can’t let them do this to us. We can’t let them take us down,’” Robson claims, before being subpoenaed to appear in court.
Leaving Neverlandairs Sunday, March 3 at 8 p.m. ET and concludes Monday, March 4 at 8 p.m. ET. Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland airs Monday, March 4 at 10 p.m. ET.