As the Sundance debut of Leaving Neverland continues to send ripples throughout the entertainment world, the Michael Jackson estate released a lengthy statement in response, calling the documentary “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death.”
Leaving Neverland, directed by Dan Reed, hones in on child abuse allegations against the “Thriller” and “Billie Jean” singer, specifically from Wade Robson, now 36, and James Safechuck, now 40.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday where a large police presence formed in anticipation of protests, though only a few angry Jackson fans picketed the event. Among the attendees were reportedly black-ish creator Kenya Barris, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, and members of the Jackson estate.
“The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact,” the statement from the estate, obtained by EW, continues. “These claims were the basis of lawsuits filed by these two admitted liars which were ultimately dismissed by a judge. 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.”
Years after Jackson’s death in 2009, Robson testified in 2013 that the singer sexually abused him as a child. In 2017, a judge dismissed the lawsuit against the Jackson estate, stating they weren’t liable for Robson’s exposure to Jackson, according to the Associated Press. The judge did not rule on Robson’s allegations themselves at the time.
As reported by The Los Angeles Times, Safechuck filed an amended complaint in 2016 that Jackson’s companies MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures enabled the King of Pop’s abuse of underage boys. He claimed Jackson engaged in sexual acts with him as a boy “hundreds” of times. A judge, too, dismissed Safechuck’s case in 2017.
“We are just trying to tell the story, to shine light on it,” Safechuck said during the Leaving Neverland premiere, as reported by Vanity Fair. “The same way, knowing Wade went through this, we can give other people the connection and comfort that we’ve received.”
HBO will debut Leaving Neverland as a two-parter this spring.
Read the estate’s statement in full below.