It Might Be Time To Stop Listening To Michael Jackson

New survivor accounts in a BAFTA-winning director's film 'Leaving Neverland' describe some shocking insights into Jackson's alleged abuse

Michael Jackson leaving neverland

by Jonathan Dean |

Michael Jackson installed a system of alarms at his Neverland Ranch in California that would ring if anyone approached his room. He had them, according to a new documentary, so he would have advance warning if anyone was heading his way. And you, the reader, need advance warning too, because the next line is horrific. Jackson had the alarms, it is alleged, so that he would have time to stop having oral sex with a prepubescent boy, and carry on being the King of Pop.

Leaving Neverland – the BAFTA- winning director Dan Reed’s four-hour film – focuses on two testimonies, from Wade Robson and James Safechuck, men who claim they were sexually abused by Jackson as children. The premiere last week at the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City left hardened critics shaken. There are more graphic details online, or you can wait until the film airs on Channel 4 next month, armed on your sofa with a very strong drink.

The Jackson family reacted with fury. Reed’s work was, they said, ‘a public lynching’ of a man no longer here to defend himself. He died a decade ago. They focused on how Robson and Safechuck previously defended Jackson in court – ignoring the fear felt by abuse victims – and branded the film ‘tabloid’. Fans of Jackson have been sending hate mail and tweets to anyone involved with, or backing, the film.

When I suggested on Twitter that it will be difficult, when you hear details, to listen to Jackson’s music again, one fan claimed the men involved were paid ludicrous sums to lie. They have denied being paid for the film. What’s been directed at Reed has been worse, and is just the beginning of a campaign by those who believe the man who moonwalked actually walks on water. In a response to the family, the director didn’t hold back. ‘Every time a song plays, a cash register goes ka-ching,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t surprise me they’ve come out fighting in defence of their asset... [But my film is] by an experienced documentarian... A four-hour piece, is that a tabloid?’

Michael Jackson
©Getty

Reed has said that, since Robson and Safechuck now have children of their own, they wanted to speak out. That’s why the film has been released, and its impact will be forever. Or, at the very least, the singer’s Wikipedia page will have a new entry, because there are thousands who won’t accept the findings in the film. For them, nothing has changed. Jackson is Jesus with a mic and he remains an infallible institution.

For the rest of us, Leaving Neverland will lead us to question whether Billie Jean is a suitable song for a wedding disco. Can we dance to Thriller with the image, as described by Robson, of a fully-grown man’s penis in a seven-year-old’s mouth? Yet Jackson means too much to too many to imagine this will stop his music. He is more significant than Gary Glitter.

After all, despite the documentary Surviving R Kelly, that vulgar man saw his music streams increase by 16% on Spotify. Kelly has denied all allegations against him and has threatened to sue. Fans of Led Zeppelin have long ignored Jimmy Page dating a 14-year-old because, I suppose, they love big riffs. These artists are a part of a person’s youth and we all fight to keep that innocence alive. That is why Jackson supporters will pretend that alarm bells aren’t ringing, even though the evidence has made others head straight to Spotify’s mute feature.

Reed’s film may not change a thing. There are too many who don’t want to believe it, or simply won’t watch the documentary. But to fellow survivors of sexual assault, the bravery of Robson and Safechuck will mean everything.

Jonathan Dean is senior writer at The Sunday Times’ Culture magazine

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