A controversial new documentary about Michael Jackson has been met with intense reaction during its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Leaving Neverland is a four-hour film about sexual abuse allegations against the late King of Pop with interviews from two men -- James Safechuck and Wade Robson -- and their families, who detail “a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception, documenting the power of celebrity that allowed a revered figure to infiltrate the lives of starstruck children and their parents.”
During a brief intermission of the world premiere screening, several reporters took to Twitter to share their thoughts and reactions. “The content of this is more disturbing than you could imagine,” Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast revealed, while IndieWire film critic David Ehrlich proclaimed he was going to “need 400 showers to ever feel clean again.”
Additionally, Variety’s Matt Donnelly reported that healthcare professionals had been installed inside the theater to help audience members upset by the film’s disturbing content.
#Sundance has provided health care professionals in the theater for audience members potentially upset by #LeavingNeverland’s explicit descriptions of sexual abuse against underage boys. They are in the wings ready with counsel.
Meanwhile, outside the Egyptian Theater in Park City, Utah, several outlets reported that two protesters had gathered to proclaim Jackson’s innocence and were met with police.
Ahead of the film’s world premiere on Friday, Jackson’s estate issued a strong rebuke of the film to ET, calling it a “lurid production.”
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the statement reads. “Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception,' filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.”
“This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations,” the statement continues. “It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Following the screening, Jackson's family issued another, lengthy statement regarding the documentary.
“Michael Jackson is our brother and son. We are furious that the media, who without a shred of proof or single piece of physical evidence, chose to believe the word of two admitted liars over the word of hundreds of families and friends around the world who spent time with Michael, many at Neverland, and experienced his legendary kindness and global generosity. We are proud of what Michael Jackson stands for,” the family's statement reads. “People have always loved to go after Michael. He was an easy target because he was unique. But Michael was subjected to a thorough investigation which included a surprise raid of Neverland and other properties as well as a jury trial where Michael was found to be COMPLETELY INNOCENT. There has never been one piece of proof of anything. Yet the media is eager to believe these lies.”
“Michael always turned the other cheek, and we have always turned the other cheek when people have gone after members of our family -- that is the Jackson way. But we can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on, and the vulture tweeters and others who never met Michael go after him. Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made,” the statement continues.
“The creators of this film were not interested in the truth. They never interviewed a single solitary soul who knew Michael except the two perjurers and their families. That is not journalism, and it’s not fair, yet the media are perpetuating these stories. But the truth is on our side. Go do your research about these opportunists. The facts don’t lie, people do. Michael Jackson was and always will be 100% innocent of these false allegations.”
Jackson was previously accused and acquitted of molestation charges in a 2005 trial. In 1993, the singer was publicly accused of molesting an underage boy before agreeing to a financial settlement. Lawsuits filed by Robson and Safechuck were both dismissed.
In May of 2017, Jackson’s estate came out against an ABC News special, The Last Days of Michael Jackson, for being what it called “another crass and unauthorized attempt to exploit the life, music and image of Michael Jackson without respect for Michael’s legacy, intellectual property rights or his children.”
Following Leaving Neverland’s debut at Sundance, the documentary is set to premiere on HBO this spring.