The four-hour film, directed by Dan Reed, details claims from Robson, a choreographer who says Jackson began abusing him when he was 7, and Safechuck, a former child actor who says Jackson began molesting him when he was 10.
Both men allege years of sexual abuse, which they say took place at the singer’s famed Neverland Ranch. They also say they faced pressure from Jackson to keep the abuse a secret. Multiple outlets reported that the Sundance screening featured health-care professionals on hand to help audience members affected by the film’s graphic descriptions. Reporters who attended the screening shared some of the documentary’s specific allegations on Twitter.
In its statement following the Sundance premiere, Jackson’s estate said “the film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact.”
“These claims were the basis of lawsuits filed by these two admitted liars which were ultimately dismissed by a judge,” the statement continued. “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, which means the entire film hinges solely on the word of two perjurers.”
As noted by the Daily Beast, Robson, 36, alleged that Jackson had sexually abused him over a seven-year period in a lawsuit filed in May of 2013 — nearly four years after the singer’s 2009 death. The Australia native, who appeared in several of Jackson’s music videos as a child, had been a key defense witness in the singer’s 2005 criminal trial, where Robson testified under oath that the singer had never molested him. (Jackson was later acquitted on all charges, which included four counts of child molestation.)
Robson’s 2013 lawsuit was thrown out two years later by a judge, who said Robson waited too long to make his legal claim.
Safechuck, 40, came forward in 2014 with a similar legal claim that was also dismissed. As the Los Angeles Times notes, documents filed in Safechuck’s case acknowledged that he, too, had denied the singer abused him — in a witness statement he gave in 1993 when Jackson was first accused of child sexual abuse.
Jackson’s family released a separate statement Monday morning, calling the documentary a “public lynching.”
“The creators of this film were not interested in the truth,” the statement said. “They never interviewed a single solitary soul who knew Michael except the two perjurers and their families. That is not journalism, and it’s not fair, yet the media are perpetuating these stories.”
The family statement echoes comments made by the singer’s nephew, Taj Jackson, who tweeted Saturday that the film was a “4 hour one sided hit job.” “This is all about money and the desperate need to be relevant again,” he wrote.
Reed, the film’s director, addressed the Jackson family’s comments in a statement Monday.
“Anyone who sees the film will know it is solely about hearing the stories of two specific individuals and their families in their own words, and that is a focus we are very proud of," he said. "We feel no need to include the opinions of people with no direct knowledge of what happened to those individuals.”
Following the Sundance screening, Safechuck and Robson said in an audience Q&A that they were never offered compensation for participating in the film. “We are just trying to tell the story, to shine light on it,” Safechuck said, as quoted by Vanity Fair.
HBO has not released an air date for “Leaving Neverland,” but it previously said the documentary will air in two parts this spring. The film will also air on Britain’s Channel 4.
This post has been updated.