On Sunday, HBO aired the first half of Dan Reed’s controversial documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which details allegations by two men — James Safechuck and Wade Robson — who say Michael Jackson sexually abused them when they were boys.
The four-hour film, which concludes Monday night, has been slammed by the estate of the singer, who died in 2009, and his family, who called the documentary a “public lynching” in a statement earlier this year. Jackson’s fans also loudly attacked “Leaving Neverland,” which features interviews with Robson, Safechuck and their families, on social media.
These were the most striking moments from Part 1 of the documentary.
Safechuck and Robson describe fairy-tale first meetings with Jackson
Safechuck, who did modeling as a child, appeared in a 1986 Pepsi commercial with the singer. In the ad, a 10-year-old Safechuck innocently explores Jackson’s dressing room, trying on his sunglasses and studded leather jacket, and is star-struck when Jackson appears at the door. Safechuck said the commercial features his actual first reaction to meeting the singer and that he hadn’t been much of a fan before meeting him. He and Jackson became friends after Safechuck spent time in the singer’s trailer.
Robson, on the other hand, idolized Jackson and grew interested in dancing after watching a documentary about the making of Jackson’s epic music video for the 1982 song “Thriller.” At 5 years old, Robson won a dance contest in his native Australia, where he performed Jackson’s signature moves in a fedora and chain-accented black and red leather pants. The contest led to Robson’s first meeting with the singer, who was in Brisbane, for a two-night leg on his 1987 “Bad” tour. After attending the first night of the concert, Robson met Jackson, who invited him to dance on the stage with him the next night. Robson’s mother recalled the young dancer being so into the energy onstage that he kept dancing even after Jackson had begun to make his exit.
Robson eventually joined a dance troupe, which heavily employed his Jackson-esque dance skills. When the troupe traveled to the United States to perform at Disneyland, Robson’s mother, Joy, tracked down Jackson’s assistant, who set up another meeting.
Jackson nurtured relationships with the Safechuck and Robson families
The mothers of the two men describe Jackson, who was 29 when he met Robson, as childlike. Jackson would call Safechuck on the phone and also spent time at the family’s home. Safechuck and his mother, Stephanie, describe a particularly surreal moment, when Safechuck’s parents picked Jackson up from his sprawling Hayvenhurst estate. Safechuck’s mother recalled a giggling Jackson going through Safechuck’s closet. Safechuck said he watched movies and ate popcorn with the singer. “He could be anywhere, with anybody in the world, and Michael wanted to be with our family,” Stephanie Safechuck says in “Leaving Neverland.” “This was all so overwhelming and like a fairy-tale, and I got lost in it.”
Robson’s family also forged a connection with Jackson. When the family traveled to the United States, they visited Jackson at his famed Neverland estate. Robson and his sister, Chantal, rode with Jackson to the property, listening to unreleased music on the way. The siblings also say they went on shopping sprees with Jackson.
The Safechucks also stayed at Neverland, where they were able to stay in any guest room of their choosing, though the guest rooms were separate from the main house.
Robson and Safechuck spent a great deal of alone time with Jackson
Robson says when his family first stayed at Neverland, Jackson told him he could either stay with his family in the guest quarters or stay in the main house with him. Robson and his sister slept in the singer’s bedroom. “We didn’t seem to think anything of it; we just thought that’s fine,” Joy Robson recalled. But toward the end of their stay, Jackson asked if Robson could stay longer. His parents allowed him to stay there alone with Jackson for five days.
Joy Robson said she began to regret her decision to leave her son at Neverland. “I remember being hysterical on the phone at one point, because I couldn’t get through and I couldn’t find him,” she says in the documentary. Robson, who was 7 at the time, said Jackson “made physical contact” with him the first day of his stay at the ranch. During the day, he said they would play tag, watch movies and practice dance moves — the singer taught him to moonwalk — but at night, Jackson would touch him inappropriately.
Though Stephanie Safechuck said she initially hesitated to let her son sleep in Jackson’s room, he was eventually permitted to stay with the singer. “I wasn’t worried that anything was going on. I guess I was more curious: What are they doing in there?” Safechuck’s mother says at one point, noting the two often read books and poems together. “Just kid things; they were just doing kid things.” There’s a similar interview with Robson’s mother, who recalls Jackson and her son watching cartoons together.
The abuse allegations are shocking and described in graphic detail
One of the most striking aspects of “Leaving Neverland” is the juxtaposition of Reed’s interviews with the men and their mothers. As the mothers recall the childhood activities their sons would do with Jackson, the men offer graphic descriptions of the alleged abuse, which they say began with the singer teaching them to masturbate and fondling them. The allegations get more disturbing from there — Safechuck says the singer performed oral sex on him while he was sleeping — and he describes abuse taking place in multiple rooms and properties across the Neverland estate, even as his family stayed on the grounds. At one point in the film, Safechuck shows several expensive rings that Jackson had bought him. “We would go buy them at jewelry stores, and we would pretend like they were for somebody else, like for a female, and he would pretend like my small hand fit whatever female we were buying it for,” he recalls. “I don’t like looking at the jewelry” now, he adds.
Robson recalled Jackson essentially justifying the abuse, telling him they were “meant to be together” and that they had been brought together by God. Robson also says Jackson showed him pornography.
The abuse coincided with family issues for both Robson and Safechuck. Joy Robson recalls Jackson asking her to leave her son with him for a year so that he could mentor him in his career. Robson’s mother said no but did eventually move the young dancer and his sister to Los Angeles — to pursue career opportunities for Robson — against their father’s wishes.
Safechuck, meanwhile, said Jackson exploited tension between his parents. He said he and the singer would eavesdrop on other people’s calls and sometimes heard his parents fighting. Safechuck recalls Jackson telling him that his mother was mean and that women were evil. “At the same time the sexual relationship is growing, he’s working on pushing you away from your parents, pushing you away from everybody else, and it feels more like it’s just you and him,” he explained.