HBO has announced that the four-hour long, two-part documentary Leaving Neverland will premiere on the network March 3 and March 4. Directed by Dan Reed, the film focuses on two men, Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, who claim that, as children, they were sexually abused by the late pop star Michael Jackson. But there are several things you need to know before deciding whether to tune in.
In Leaving Neverland, Robson alleges Jackson began to abuse him at the age of 7, after he and his family started visiting the Thriller star at his Neverland ranch. Robson also claims Jackson performed oral sex on him and would ask the child to expose his anus while Jackson masturbated. Safechuck says Jackson performed oral sex on him while he was asleep and that the singer would reward him with jewelry for sex acts.
It has been criticized by the Jackson estate
Ahead of the documentary’s world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Jackson estate issued a statement to E! News describing Leaving Neverland as “just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
It was one of the most talked-about films at Sundance
In fact, the film was making news even before it premiered at the Egyptian Theater in Park City on Jan. 25. In a Deadline article published two days earlier, a law enforcement source was quoted as saying, “Tensions are higher for this movie than anything I’ve ever seen at Sundance before. No one is going to be prevented from exercising their Constitutional rights, but we are not going to allow this to get out of hand, in any way.” At the screening itself, two protestors clashed with police.
Critics and journalists who saw the film described it as a harrowing experience.
“It’s halftime at the four-hour Michael Jackson doc and I’m already gonna need 400 showers to ever feel clean again,” tweeted David Ehrlich from Indie Wire.
“On a 10-min break halfway through Sundance’s 4-hour Michael Jackson child sex abuse documentary,” wrote Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast. “Whatever you thought you knew or were aware of, the content of this is more disturbing than you could imagine. And again, we’re only halfway through.”
Both Robson and Safechuck attended the premiere and received a standing ovation at the end of the film.
There was a rumor HBO wouldn’t screen the film
The Jackson estate has continued to criticize the movie. On Feb. 7, according to Deadline, lawyer Howard Weitzman sent a letter to HBO CEO Richard Pepler pointing out that “the Estate spent years litigating with Robson and Safechuck, and had four different lawsuits by these two men dismissed with prejudice. In those litigations, the Estate discovered troves of information about Robson and Safechuck that made it unequivocally clear that they had no credibility whatsoever… Had HBO actually complied with the most basic of journalistic ethics — rather than just accept their salacious allegations at face value — it would have discovered so much more long before it ever got involved in this disgraceful project.”
On Feb. 8, one media report suggested that the documentary might not show up on the HBO schedule. But later in the day, the cable network released the March premiere dates. Around the same time, The Hollywood Reporter posted an interview with programming president Casey Bloys in which he spoke about the documentary.
“All I would ask is that anybody writing or thinking about it would watch it and reserve judgment until they see it,” he said. “It’s a very powerful documentary.”