As the Sundance Film Festival opened last week, an audience crowded into the Egyptian for a screening of “Leaving Neverland” which examines child-abuse allegations made against the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
The film will be televised by HBO in two parts. The audience sat down for a single four-hour showing, and then gave a standing ovation to the two men who came forward with their stories.
James Safechuck met Jackson when they appeared together in a Pepsi commercial in the Eighties. Wade Robson was a five-year-old Australian dancing prodigy who came to the star’s attention when Jackson toured that country.
Film Maker Dan Reed said although he doesn’t usually work on show-business topics, he wanted to take on the questions about Jackson that surfaced in a 1994 case, which was settled, and a 2005 trial, when he was acquitted.
Reed was asked how he approached his two subjects.
“I said look both of them had spoken to lawyers and spoken to therapists.” Reed explained, “I said you’re speaking to a person on the street really personally. Just speak the story in the most simplest way you can. In the most honest way you can. Don’t worry about any contradictory feelings you might have just tell it like it is. That’s what they both extraordinarily did over several days. I interviewed Wade for three days and James for two days and then we did pickup interviews afterwards. It just came out.”
Wade Robson said they were not offered money to tell their story for the film. He said that, aside from briefly meeting James when they were youngsters, they had not come together until the film came to Sundance.
“It’s just been incredible you know.” Robson said, “Like we talked about in the film it can be so isolating, and it was all that we both wanted for the last however long it’s been. Just to talk, to communicate.”
Both men filed separate lawsuits against Jackson’s estate, but Robson said they did it to have a platform to tell their stories.
“We can’t change what happened to us.” Robson continued, “We can’t do anything particularly about stopping Michael I mean he’s dead. That’s gone, right? What happened, happened. The feeling is what can we do with it now? How can we use this platform to tell this story? Hopefully it helps other survivors feel less isolated, and something they can relate to and validates their story. One of my grandest hopes too is just raising awareness for parents, for teachers, for business leaders. Anybody responsible for children to try and prevent this from happening as much as possible.”
Robson, who is now a well-known choreographer in the music industry, was asked what he would say to Jackson fans who have attacked the film.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything that I need to say to them. Except that I understand that its really hard for them to believe.” Robson explained, “Because in a way, not that long ago, I was in the same position they were. Even though it happened to me, I still couldn’t believe it. I still couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing. Up until whatever it was that I disclosed, six years ago. So, I understand. We can only accept and understand something when we’re ready. Maybe we’ll never be ready, maybe we will so that’s their journey.”
Security was heavy for the showing on Friday—including a K-9 unit in the Egyptian lobby. However, only a couple of protestors appeared on Main Street. A flier they handed out said they came because Jackson wasn’t there to defend himself and there are no laws to protect the dead against defamation. The flier said, “The two people featured in this film have already attempted to benefit financially through legal action and were denied by the courts due to lack of evidence and credibility.”