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‘LEAVING NEVERLAND’: The documentary that questions the legacy of the king of pop

Neverland is the name of an imaginary island conceived by the author of the universally celebrated Peter Pan, Scottish writer J.M. Barrie, and which is inhabited by all kinds of fantastic beings, as well as the famous Lost Boys. In Barrie’s imagination, these children who never grew up, lived beyond any responsibility or rule of the real world. In the 80s, Michael Jackson— in his own words “Peter Pan by heart”—acquired a 2,800 acre ranch to make it his home and a giant amusement park, with two artificial lakes, a zoo and a railway line with its own station. He had managed to create his own Neverland. If the king of pop considered himself a twentieth-century Peter Pan, who were his lost children?

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fter seeing Dan Reed’s documentary Leaving Neverland and hearing the stories of its two main characters, Wade Robson and James Safechuck on the numerous cases of sexual abuse which they suffered by the singer, many consider them lost boys because they lost their childhood and their innocence—also in the words of one of their mothers—even though they were not aware of it at the time or did not want to make the hell they lived through public until years later.

During the four-hour-plus documentary, Wade and James—who have not received payment for their testimony—tell how they met the king of pop

Leaving Neverland does not leave anyone unmoved. Since its premiere at the Sundance Festival on January 25 and on HBO on March 3, a real earthquake has shaken the social networks through to every corner of everyone’s memory, music aficionados or not.

 

During the four-hour-plus documentary, Wade and James—who have not received payment for their testimony—tell how they met the king of pop and how a close bond was forged with him, both on their part and on that of their families, who enjoyed stays at the famous ranch.

Coincidentally, both were child prodigies, as many consider Michael himself to have been. Wade was an amazing dancer who met the star when he won a Jackson imitation contest in his home country, Australia, and there began not only a professional collaboration, but an intimate friendship that intensified when the boy moved with his family to Los Angeles. James, on the other hand, was selected as an actor for a Pepsi commercial featuring Michael Jackson. There they also began a relationship that would last several years.

In addition to Wade and James’ testimonies, the documentary includes interviews with their families and a considerable amount of archive material, including photographs, home videos,  phone calls, faxes, etc.

Dan Reed says his intention is to give a voice to two victims of child abuse, two people who were fascinated and attracted in every way by Michael, and showing how their relationships with him marked their lives forever.

Many wonder why their mothers let their sons suffer such abuse, or simply why they let their children sleep alongside the singer

One of the aspects that stirred up most bluster was the position of the mothers of the two men. Reed gives almost as much time to interviewing the mothers as to their sons, and many wonder why—is it money?—they let their sons suffer such abuse, or simply why they let their children sleep alongside the singer, being so young, alone in a bedroom. James’ mother even says “I had one job, I had one child, and I f···ed up.”

The emotional backlash the documentary caused means fans from all over the world have split between the #MJInnocent camp and those who have shown profound disappointment. They have accused Leaving Neverland of being trash journalism and sensationalism, of being biased, since the other party cannot defend himself, apart from the artist’s statements denying the accusations in recordings in 1993 and 2005. In the forums on Internet, many Jackson supporters wonder where the presumption of innocence is, and claim there is no evidence or proof, recalling that the FBI closed the case.

Some fans go further, like Irishman Seany O’Kane, who raised money to pay for ads on London buses promoting a website in defence of Jackson’s innocence.

Singer Aaron Carter has also come out in defence of Michael, assuring that he had the time of his life at Neverland, and that those who now speak against him are stomping on his grave.

 

Michael’s family have also taken action. They have filed a complaint against the documentary and has sued HBO for 100 million dollars. Taj Jackson, the son of Tito Jackson, one of Michael’s elder brothers and an original member of the Jackson 5, is preparing his own documentary to clear the singer’s name. However, there have also been voices in Hollywood that have risen to support Wade and James, beginning with singer Sia, actresses Rosie O’Donell and Rose MacGowan, as well as journalists and presenters of leading shows like Ellen DeGeneres or Oprah Winfrey, who interviewed the subjects of the documentary in a special.

The documentary has not only shaken up and divided positions, but has had effects at all levels, most of them detrimental to the artist’s image. Radio stations in New Zealand or Canada have stopped playing Jackson songs and excluded them from their lists, the value of the ranch has plummeted and the executive producer of The Simpsons announced he wanted the episode in which Michael voiced one of the characters pulled.