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Leaving Neverland

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leaving Neverland
Film Poster for Leaving Neverland.jpg
Television release poster
Directed byDan Reed
Produced byDan Reed
Music byChad Hobson
CinematographyDan Reed
Edited byJules Cornell
Amos Pictures
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 25, 2019 (2019-01-25) (Sundance)
  • March 3, 2019 (2019-03-03) (United States)
  • March 6, 2019 (2019-03-06) (United Kingdom)
Running time
236 minutes[1]
182 minutes (UK version)[2]
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom

Leaving Neverland is a 2019 documentary directed and produced by the British filmmaker Dan Reed. It focuses on two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused as children by the singer Michael Jackson. It also examines the effects on their families. The documentary resulted in a backlash against Jackson and a reassessment of his legacy.[3]

The film is a co-production between the UK broadcaster Channel 4 and the US broadcaster HBO. It premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2019 and was broadcast on HBO in two parts in March 2019.[4]


Jackson with James Safechuck (right) in Hawaii, January 1988
Jackson with James Safechuck (right) in Hawaii, January 1988

In 1993, Michael Jackson was accused of sexually molesting 13-year-old Jordan Chandler. Jackson denied the claims and settled the civil case out of court for a payment of $15 million plus legal fees; the settlement included a nondisclosure agreement.[5] No criminal charges were filed.[6] In 2005, following further allegations, prompted by the 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson in which he was holding hands with a boy named Gavin Arvizo and talked about his sleepovers with children, Jackson was acquitted of child sexual abuse charges.[6]

In 2013, choreographer Wade Robson filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Jackson had sexually abused him for seven years, beginning when he was seven years old.[7] In 2014, a case was filed by James Safechuck after seeing an interview with Robson,[8] alleging sexual abuse over a four-year period from the age of ten.[9] Both had previously testified in defense of Jackson — Safechuck as a child during the 1993 investigation, Robson both as a child in 1993 and as a young adult in 2005.[10][11] In 2015, Robson's case against Jackson's estate was dismissed on the grounds that it had been filed too late, and in 2017 it was ruled that neither of the corporate entities formerly owned by Jackson could be held accountable for Jackson's alleged actions.[12][13]

In the film, Robson, Safechuck, and their respective families describe their relationship with Jackson. Safechuck and Robson allege that Jackson sexually abused them at his home, Neverland Ranch, and at his other residences across California.[14]

Reed described his film as a "study of the psychology of child sexual abuse, told through two ordinary families who were groomed for 20 years by a paedophile masquerading as a trusted friend".[15]


The documentary was conceived by the British broadcaster Channel 4.[16] After Reed produced enough material to produce a four-hour film, the American broadcaster HBO joined the production.[16] He felt the four-hour length was necessary to present the story "in a way that makes it fully understandable in all its complexity".[17] Reed did not use the film to comment on Jackson's actions or motivations.[17]

In February 2018, Reed and assistant producer Marguerite Gaudin flew to Hawaii to interview Robson.[18] Robson agreed to tell his story chronologically and omit no details.[18] A camera failed shortly after shooting began, but a solution was found; shooting continued until nighttime and continued throughout the second day. Reed travelled to Los Angeles later that week to shoot Safechuck's story in two days.[18] Reed said that Robson, Safechuck, and their families received no financial compensation for the film.[19]

After filming, Reed returned to London and began corroborating the stories.[18] Wondering how Robson and Safechuck's mothers could have allowed their sons to be abused, he returned to Los Angeles in November 2018 and interviewed their families.[18] He decided that footage he had shot of former detectives and prosecutors from the 1993 case and the 2005 trial was unnecessary.[17]

Reed was unable to contact Jordan Chandler for the documentary and assumed he would prefer to remain private.[20] He did not contact Macaulay Culkin and Brett Barnes, both who have denied being abused by Jackson.[21] Reed said Chandler and Gavin Arvizo's stories could form the basis for a second documentary.[20]


Leaving Neverland premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2019. For television, it was split into two parts broadcast on March 3 and 4 on HBO in the US and March 6 and 7 on Channel 4 in the UK.[4] It broke Channel 4 streaming records and became the most downloaded Channel 4 show ever, and took a 45% share of young television audiences.[16] In the US, the first episode was watched by 1.29 million viewers and scored 0.41 in the key 18–49 demographic.[22][23] The second episode was watched by 0.927 million viewers and scored 0.26 in the 18–49 demographic.[24][25]

Kew Media Group sold the documentary to channels in 130 territories.[4] In New Zealand, the first episode was watched by 716,000, making it one of the most watched non-sporting non-news broadcasts in the country's history.[26] Netherlands broadcaster VPRO referred viewers to the Mind Korrelatie foundation for victims of sexual abuse, and attracted callers in large numbers.[27]

The US broadcast was followed by Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland (recorded March 2, 2019), in which Robson, Safechuck, and Reed were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey before an audience of victims and their families.[28] The special was watched by 0.78 million viewers and scored a 0.23 in the 18–49 demographic.[24]


Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, Leaving Neverland holds an approval rating of 98% based on 90 reviews, with an average score of 7.92/10. Its consensus states: "Crucial and careful, Leaving Neverland gives empathetic breadth and depth to the complicated afterlife of child sexual abuse as experienced by adult survivors."[29] On Metacritic, it holds a weighted average of 85 out of 100, indicating "universal acclaim," based on 21 reviews.[30]

In Vanity Fair, Owen Gleiberman described the two men's stories as "overwhelmingly powerful and convincing."[31] Hank Stuever of The Washington Post thought the documentary was "riveting" and "devastating," ending his review with a plea: "Turn off the music and listen to these men."[32] Melanie McFarland of Salon believed the film's "intent isn’t to merely grant these men and their families a platform to air their stories in all their painful fullness, but to place the viewer inside the perspectives of everyone who was taken in by the does leave the viewer in the thorny clarity of what we know now."[33] Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe wrote that the film was not "particularly imaginative," yet he admired how it chronicled Robson's and Safechuck's emotional narrative: "it accounts for every stage of their respective recoveries, which are still in progress, including their darkest feelings of fear, denial, and shame."[34] In Entertainment Weekly, Kristen Baldwin gave the film a B grade. She criticized it as "woefully one-sided" and concluded: "As a documentary, Leaving Neverland is a failure. As a reckoning, though, it is unforgettable."[35] In The Hollywood Reporter, Daniel Fienberg wrote: Leaving Neverland is "about the 20+ years...Robson and Safechuck [held secrets, lied, covered up] — and the damage that can do — as it is about the alleged crimes." He concluded, "it's doubtful you'll feel exactly the same after watching."[36] The Daily Telegraph awarded it five out of five, describing it as "a horrifying picture of child abuse."[37]

David Fear wrote in Rolling Stone: "By offering these men a forum, this doc has clearly chosen a side. Yet the thoroughness with which it details this history of allegations, and the way it personalizes them to a startling degree, is hard to shake off."[38] IndieWire's David Ehrlich wrote that the film was "dry" and "hardly great cinema", but that it was "a crucial document for a culture that still can't see itself clearly in Michael Jackson's shadow".[39] Alissa Wilkinson described the documentary as "a devastating case" that "may forever" change Jackson's legacy.[40] In the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper described it as a "devastating and undeniably persuasive film."[41]

Jackson estate and supporters

In January 2019, the Jackson estate issued a press release condemning the film, saying: "The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations."[42] In February 2019, the Jackson estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO,[43] petitioning a court to compel the network to cooperate in arbitration regarding its plan to broadcast the film. As Jackson has died, HBO cannot be sued for defamation; instead, the estate claims that HBO violated a 1992 agreement never to disparage Jackson's public image, one of the terms of a deal made to broadcast Jackson's concert film Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.[44] On the day of the HBO premiere of Leaving Neverland: Part One, the estate posted Live in Bucharest on YouTube. The following day, to coincide with the broadcast of Part Two, the estate posted another concert film, Live at Wembley July 16, 1988.[45]

Actor Corey Feldman, who was friends with Jackson as a child, first commented by saying that Jackson had never acted inappropriately towards him and called the documentary "one-sided".[46] Two days later, he softened his position saying, "It comes to a point where as an advocate for victims, as an advocate for changing the statutes of limitations to make sure victims' voices are heard, it becomes impossible for me to remain virtuous and not at least consider what's being said and not listen to what the victims are saying."[47] Conversely, he had been subpoenaed to testify against Jackson at the 2005 trial (although he did not actually testify[48]), declaring at the time: "So I'm here to say I hope and I pray that these things never happened, and if they never happened, then there's some real sickness with a lot of people. But if they did happen, then there's a lot of sickness with one person. And that person needs to be punished." Although he was adamant that Jackson never touched him, he recounted that they once watched "a book of naked pictures" together when Feldman was 13 or 14, more specifically a book that was "focused on venereal diseases and the genitalia", and that this alone was inappropriate enough from his adult point of view that, if he learned of anybody having that kind of behaviour with his own son, he would "probably beat his ass".[49]

Jackson fans demanded the Sundance Film Festival cancel the premiere.[50] At the Sundance premiere, Robson and Safechuck said they had received death threats from Jackson fans.[51] Fans protested outside Channel 4's office,[16] and led an internet campaign against the film. They also crowdfunded an advertising campaign to publicise Jackson's alleged innocence, with the slogan "Facts don't lie. People do" on buses and bus stops. On March 13, Transport for London announced it would remove the adverts after the charity Survivors Trust complained that they could discourage victims of sexual abuse from coming forward.[52][53] Mike Pesca of Slate and Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast described those fans as conspiracy theorists.[54][55]

Brandi Jackson, Michael Jackson's niece defended him and claimed she was in a relationship with Wade Robson during their teenage years and questioned his credibility in the documentary.[56] A former bodyguard of Michael Jackson dismissed claims of child sexual abuse, saying that Jackson was "into women."[57] A second bodyguard condemned the movie for omitting the fact that Robson and Safechuck are suing Jackson's estate.[57]

According to Michael Jackson biographer Mike Smallcombe, Safechuck's claims of sexual abuse at Neverland’s train station in 1992 are false because the train station was not built until 1994.[58][59] Dan Reed, the director of Leaving Neverland, admitted that there was a mistake in the dates but said that he still believes that Jackson was guilty. [60]

Public response

The documentary led to a backlash against Jackson in the media[3] but also a significant increase in his music's sales.[61]


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External links

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