After spending a week prior to Sundance listening to the ramifications for the R. Kelly documentary hitting the air, the last thing I wanted to do was watch Leaving Neverland at the Sundance Film Festival. Which is one of the reasons I struggled with going to screen this film or even writing this review. Having said that we all know that Michael Jackson was a public figure who appeared to be bigger than life. So, of course when he showed interest in a few middle class families and their children, who can’t believe the mega-superstar actually gives them the time of day or even knows their names it feels as though everyone is living out a real-life fantasy.
Leaving Neverland focuses on accusers Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 40, who allege that Jackson began sexually abusing them at ages 7 and 10, respectively. At the time, both boys were diehard fans with entertainment aspirations of their own: Robson, who went on to choreograph for Britney Spears and ‘N Sync as an adult, met Jackson after winning a dance contest during the singer’s 1987 Bad tour in Australia. Safechuck, a child actor, appeared with Jackson that same year in a Pepsi commercial and says he began to hang out regularly with the star in Los Angeles.
Here are my issues. Robson and Safechuck each filed lawsuits against Jackson’s estate after his death in 2013 and 2014, respectively, although judges denied both. Both were adamant that Jackson was innocent when he went to trial and was acquitted of all charges. Both had parents who enabled, allowed and basically pimped their kids out to allegedly spend time alone with Jackson behind closed, locked doors. My mother would have never allowed such a thing. She wouldn’t have cared if you were Jesus Christ himself!!!
The documentary, produced by HBO clocks in around 4 hours long. After two hours, I’d had enough of hearing the same stories repeated ad nauseam. I find that very interesting that the film got a standing ovation at Sundance because from where I was sitting droves of people left during the entire two hours I managed to hang in there. Basically, I left because the film was repetitive in content for the most part. There was one moment Wade Robson pulls out a jewelry box full of gold rings that were supposedly given to him by MJ for sexual favors. After going into greater detail, he tearfully exclaims it’s hard for him to look at the jewelry. Then, why are they still in your possession??????? That would be like me being attacked and keeping the same clothes I had been attacked in. I just don’t get it!!!!
The one and only thing that gave me pause is that I found it ironic that these young men looked identical as children and adults. I found it difficult to keep them straight on-screen without a lower third. Why does that concern me you ask? Because people have a “type” when it comes to choosing someone to be romantically or sexually linked with. If what these young men and their families say is true then it makes me beyond sad.
My final issue is with desecrating someone in death, when you were the biggest cheerleader in life. Leaving Neverland is painful to watch for a variety of reasons and there are some out there who for yet another ride around the tabloid merry-go-round will find this entertaining or interesting. I would not be one of them. Let me be clear. If indeed the heinous acts described are true, it only goes to prove how our society will forego self-respect and dignity to get close to a celebrity and protect them at any cost. If it’s not true, we are witnessing yet another character assassination of someone who is no longer here to fight for himself. It’s sad and disappointing either way you look at it. I remain conflicted and confused by it all.