A new documentary about Michael Jackson alleges the King of Pop was a sexual predator who groomed young boys, and repeatedly molested them at his Neverland Ranch as their parents turned a blind eye.
Leaving Neverland debuted Friday at the Sundance Film Festival and left the audience in disbelief, according to Nonfiction Film Editor-in-Chief Matthew Carey, who attended the screening.
“Leaving Neverland is the most damning examination of Michael Jackson’s conduct with young boys ever created,” Carey told Urban Hollywood 411. “Director Dan Reed said he interviewed prosecutors and investigators who looked into allegations of abuse against the entertainer, but in the end he decided to concentrate on the accounts of Wade Robson and James Safechuck.”
The film is directed by BAFTA winner Reed, and centers on interviews with Robson, 36, and Safechuck, 40, who claim they endured years of abuse by Jackson.
Carey said he found the allegations made by Robson and Safechuck sickening.
“Both men recall in graphic terms the kinds of sex acts they say Jackson preferred. They say Jackson initiated the sexual relationships by fondling them and later the contact progressed to French kissing, masturbation and oral sex, among other acts,” Carey explained.
Robson and Safechuck allege in the film that the abuse began when they were 7 and 10 years old. At the time, both boys were huge Jackson fans and wanted careers in the entertainment industry.
“Their detailed, heart-wrenching descriptions of how Jackson allegedly seduced them and then engaged in long-term sexual relationships with them mirroring each other, adding credibility to their stories,” Carey noted.
The director and the two accusers took part in a Q&A after the screening at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah, and received a standing ovation from the audience.
Robson met Jackson after winning a dance competition during the singer’s 1987 Bad tour in Australia. Robson went on to become a sought after choreographer and worked with Britney Spears and NSYNC. Safechuck, now a computer programmer, was a child actor who appeared with Jackson in a Pepsi commercial.
Safechuck claims in the film that Jackson introduced him to masturbation. Robson offers similar allegations, saying he had sexual encounters with Jackson when he visited Neverland, adding that he watched the music legend masturbate, and Jackson introduced him to porn and gave him alcohol.
“In one of the most disturbing passages in the film, Safechuck describes undergoing a wedding ceremony with Jackson when Safechuck was just a boy,” Carey said. “He displays a ring he says Jackson gave him as a wedding band.”
The boys were accompanied to Neverland by their mothers, who failed to prevent them from spending time alone with a grown man.
Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang described the graphic allegations in the film as “horrifying,” adding, “Safechuck’s steady recall of every room at the ranch where Jackson abused him is truly the stuff of nightmares.”
The material in the film was so disturbing that festival director John Cooper told audience members there were “healthcare professionals in the lobby” to assist anyone who needed counseling after watching the documentary, Rolling Stone reported.
Robson testified on Jackson’s behalf in 2005 after the singer was charged with molesting a 13-year-old boy. Jackson was acquitted of all charges related to the allegations.
Jackson died in 2009 at age 50 from cardiac arrest caused by an overdose of propofol.
Robson and Safechuck filed lawsuits against the singer’s estate after his death, claiming sexual misconduct, but their cases were dismissed.
Jackson’s estate released a statement earlier this month calling the film “pathetic.” On Friday the estate released a new statement describing the film as “tabloid character assassination.”
“The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact,” Friday’s statement said.
Jackson’s fans have also criticized the documentary on social media and threatened to boycott the premiere. Police officers were stationed outside the screening, but only a handful of protesters showed up, Carey said.
Leaving Neverland is set to air on HBO and Britain’s Channel 4 in the spring.