Leaving Neverland (2019)
March 7, 2019 12:08 PM - Subscribe

At the height of his stardom Michael Jackson began long-running relationships with two boys, aged 7 and 10, and their families. Now in their 30s, they tell their story and how they came to terms with it years later.
posted by Fizz (14 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
God, this was a time capsule full of horrors. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this documentary, but I'm not sure I have much to say about it yet.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:02 PM on March 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is one of my worst nightmares as a parent -- your child claims convincingly again and again that nothing happened, only to tell you years later that, yes, the horrible things you imagined were actually happening.
posted by mefireader at 3:18 PM on March 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

Yeah, this was pretty rough.
I have such problems placing myself in the parents' shoes. I want to say that I would watch my kid like a hawk with some stranger, but the rules of normal life don't apply once you get into the orbit of someone like Jackson. Dude has staff around him, an entire world of wealth and fame. Who's to say that in that setting, I wouldn't rationalize some excuse that I'm helping my kid's future by letting him play with a megastar?
That's the really terrifying thing here. I can see the victims' families clinging to some hope, some unspoken devil's deal, that not investigating too closely would lead to a better future - just give into the fantasy.
Still, on a personal history level, this vindicates a few past choices: Choosing the Ghostbuster's Soundtrack over Bad as my first ever album purchase and telling a super off-color Michael Jackson knock-knock joke at a family dinner when I was in high school.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:03 PM on March 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

I had to take a number of breaks in between my viewings because of how upsetting and graphic it was. I will say this, for anyone wondering, the focus is on these two men, their families and how they survived this horror and fought to get to where they are.

Michael Jackson is a kind of shadow that exists in the background and while there's plenty of footage of him, this film is about these two men and not about him. It's about their lives, their struggles, what they suffered, how they came out on the other side despite the years of abuse. It is gut wrenching to watch but very rewarding too. I'm glad I made the decision to see it through to the end, but I wouldn't fault anyone from just reading about it, it's not easy to view.
posted by Fizz at 5:57 AM on March 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

Vanity Fair has had some good follow up articles:

10 Undeniable Facts About the Michael Jackson Sexual-Abuse Allegations
From those, two I didn't know previously:
#4) Way back in the Jordie Chandler case from the 90s, Chandler was able to accurately describe the markings on Jackson's genitalia from his vitiligo skin coloration issues.
#6) Jackson kept a large amount of porn, including bondage sculptures openly displayed in his room.

“Michael Is Everywhere”: Two Michael Jackson Accusers Explain Why They’re Speaking Out in HBO’s Leaving Neverland (Includes an interview with Robson, Safechuck, and filmmaker Reed.)

New York Times:
Michael Jackson Cast a Spell. ‘Leaving Neverland’ Breaks It.
"The story was that Jackson never molested anybody. And we stuck to it, and it stuck to him. And the question now, of course, is what do we do? It’s the question of our #MeToo times: If we believe the accusers (and I believe Wade and James), what do we do with the art? With Jackson, what can we do?"
posted by dnash at 10:13 AM on March 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

Longreads also collected a bunch of articles.
posted by box at 11:23 AM on March 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

Robson's wife describes this as a bomb going off in their lives. Not to minimize the horrific effect on the two men who were molested for years, but it struck me how much others around them were effected by this abuse in different ways. It was like a bomb blowing out from the inside. Please pardon this if it sounds cruelly naive I hope this doesn't come out that way. I thought the same thing watching the Lorena documentary. Neighbors also traumatized for decades after it happened. I wondered about the maid who testified seeing them in the shower then Robson's denying it in that same trial. I imagine she lost or left that job, and carried the weight of testifying as a witness to child sexual abuse and not being believed. I thought about all the nuts who hung around outside that trial, were a part of the circus outside, unable to believe this pop star could commit something so unthinkable over and over, helping create a culture to cover it up for years.

I thought this documentary did a good job on showing how confusing the abuse was - they loved their abuser, they wanted to protect him. To help him. It's so complicated and awful.

I remember the abuser often presenting himself as the victim of others' cruelty. I was in my early 20s when this was going on. I remember thinking Jackson was goofy and weird and the whole tabloid culture of the time was gross and unending.

Just heartbreaking and maddening all over the place.
posted by dog food sugar at 11:25 AM on March 8, 2019 [8 favorites]

I guess I never thought that he wasn't a child molester. Once the first accusations came out and then the string of completely bizarre and unbelievable relationships with women...he seemed deeply troubled and very problematic. But, it's one of those things where you look around at your village, your culture, and say, "We are ok with this? Looks like we are...." That's the most disturbing thing. Also, his most strident supporters seem completely bats. If your only friends are these friends, you are in trouble.

This was harrowing to watch. I find these men utterly believable. The interview with Oprah was good, too. And we absolutely can blame her for a bit of Michael's fame and "redemption" such that it was. I'm so sad for Safechuck that he has not gotten the therapy that he needs, yet. I thought Oprah's most poignant question was, "Would you have come out like this if he was still alive?" And the audience just really vocally reacted to that. That's how intense and damaging and shameful this kind of abuse is, the abuser needs to be dead in so many cases for healing to begin.

I also came away with this feeling, there has to be some recognition of pedophilia and early intervention if possible. It's so taboo in our culture that it remains happening behind tightly locked doors. It is clearly so traumatising to people to become sexualized early, that I just wish there was an early intervention program and education starting in schools. I've often felt that one of the reasons you have pedophilia in the priesthood is that these are individuals who are battling their urges and specifically go into a field that promises to tamp down their sexual feelings that allows them a conversation with God to protect them and confess to and then they find out that religion is not at all a cure for their desire and it does not protect them from themselves or others. This does not absolve adults from harming children. But there has to be a better way than waiting 20 years for the kid to grow up and deal with their trauma.
posted by amanda at 9:31 AM on March 9, 2019 [9 favorites]

Any part of me that ever had any sympathy because of Jackson's upbringing was washed away after seeing this. To pretend to be a champion of children and then systematically rape them, then leave by the wayside when they hit puberty, it is the work of pure evil.

I hope he's rotting in hell.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:44 PM on March 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

The thing this had to answer for me, given things I’d read before it aired about how both of these men have “changed their stories,” is of course why they changed their stories. I feel like it answered that fairly well, although it never directly addresses the question - you have to just follow the story and come to understand it. In the 1990’s case, they were both still so young... by the next case, Safechuck had apparently started telling his mother that Jackson was “not a good guy.” While Robson was at the height of an incredibly meteoric career - only 20 or so, and directing major concert tours for N’Sync and Britney Spears, both at the height of their respective careers? That’s crazy! You can see how the last thing he’d want to do would be get his name all tangled up in more Jackson allegations. (You can also sense that probably somehow he was using his work-a-holism as a means to hide from his trauma - which led to the nervous breakdowns.)

The Oprah special after part 2 was good - whatever you might want to criticize her for in contributing to Jackson’s fame and cover stories in the past, she focused the conversation of the interview on the process of how this sort of abuse happens - the grooming, playing families against each other, etc. She didn’t make it about Jackson, she made it about how we need to learn to recognize this pattern.

I find I feel a lot for Safechuck. He seems like he’s still got a ton of hurt going on. And it sucks that he apparently joined the lawsuit with Robson with thoughts that the two of them could actually talk and maybe help each other - but apparently the rules of the lawsuit mean they cannot contact each other? I guess so as not to sync their stories, though at this point what do they not know about each other’s stories?

Anyway. I wish both these guys all the healing they need. And I wish Jackson’s family, who surely know the whole awful thing, would finally own up to it all.
posted by dnash at 6:53 PM on March 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

The focus on Robson and Safechuck, with the bare minimum of Jackson, really drove home to me how standard the process was. Take away the Wacko and chimps and surgery and all that hoopla... and what you're left with is a rich pedophile grooming the kids and soothing their parents. Give the kids gifts their parents can't afford. Tell the parents you're lonely and childlike. Make them all think they're unique.
posted by harriet vane at 5:39 AM on March 13, 2019

Oh I meant to ask though: has anyone ever explained why he wore so many military-themed outfits? I don't know how to place that detail in among the rest of the predatory narcissism and supposed childlike nature.
posted by harriet vane at 5:42 AM on March 13, 2019

Michael Bush, who dressed Michael Jackson from 1985 (circa Captain EO) until Jackson's funeral and then wrote a book about his experience, might not be a completely reliable source. That said, he told one interviewer:
"Military-inspired jackets became his trademark because the style was worn by royalty during Victorian times as a form of entertainment.

“And Michael was the ultimate entertainer,” Bush said on the phone from his Los Angeles home. And then this, referencing a Napoleon quotation: “Michael believed in the saying, 'With baubles men are led.'”


"He wanted designs that were authoritative and demanded respect — and that was the military jacket. That look was his iconic visual."
He also told Rolling Stone:
"And it really pleased his female fans. Who doesn't love a man in a uniform? It was about that creating the sexual mystique."
posted by box at 9:05 AM on March 13, 2019

One of my most favorited comments on this website was a defense of Jackson back in 2009 that suggested his accusers were lying, greedy opportunists.

I formally disavow that defense. The testimonies in Leaving Neverland are detailed, credible, genuine, moving and devastatingly persuasive.
posted by dgaicun at 9:21 AM on March 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

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