Oprah Winfrey assembled an audience of 100 men and women whom she said were victims of sexual abuse for a post-Leaving Neverland special on Monday because “this moment transcends Michael Jackson. It’s much bigger than any one person.”
In After Neverland that aired on HBO and OWN, Winfrey said Director Dan Reed achieved in his four-hour miniseries what she tried to accomplish in 217 episodes of her eponymous talk show — the misconception about the kind of abuse endured by James Safechuck and Wade Robson at the hands of Michael Jackson.
The two-part documentary that began on Sunday and ended Monday night focused on Robson, now 36, and Safechuck, now 40, and their experiences with Jackson at the ages of 7 and 10, respectively. The Jackson estate has called the film “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death.” They are suing the premium cable channel, claiming it will “constitute a breach of a non-disparagement clause” from a previous contract.
“Sexual abuse is not just abuse, it’s sexual seduction,” Winfrey said at the start of the hour-long special. “It’s like a scourge on humanity. And it’s happening right now in families. We know its happening in churches, and schools and sports teams everywhere.”
“He told me it was love,” added Robson, who participated in the special with Safechuck and Reed. “He told me that he loved me and that God brought us together. Michael was God to me.”
Besides interviewing Robson and Safechuck, Winfrey called upon abuse victims in the audience to speak about their experiences. Among them was actor Anthony Edwards (ER), who said he was molested at the age of 14. “[What] you guys so beautifully represented here is that thing that happens to a young psyche who has allowed a person to become their everything. That person is your whole life,” Edwards said. “That person is inspiring, he was a mentor to me. The feeling was if I was to tell the truth, it would all shatter.”
Here are some of the highlights of the special:
On whether Robson believes he is owed money by the Jackson estate: “It isn’t a thought of mine. That’s the legal system. In what other scenario is the estate, Michael’s company going to have to listen? A big piece for me is that Michael trained me and forced me to tell the lie for so many years, particularly on the stand. So the feeling I want is the opportunity to re-process that experience. I want to get on the stand again. Now I’m able to tell the truth.”
Why Reed didn’t get a comment from the estate for the documentary: “No one in the family disputes that Michael spent night after night with little boys. The issue is what happened when the bedroom door closed and when the lights went off. What happened between Wade and Michael and James and Michael? What is the journalistic value of interviewing someone who says Michael is a nice guy when that person has a gigantic financial interest in smearing these two men and discrediting them?”
Why Robson continued to spend time with Jackson after he was abused: “I had no understanding of it being abuse. I loved Michael. All the times that I testified and many many times I gushed over him publicly in interviews, that was from a real place. While never forgetting any of the sexual details that happened between us but having no understanding that it was abuse…anything that Michael did was right to me for so many years.”
Why Robson went on the witness stand and defended Jackson: “I know this now; I couldn’t even question Michael. If I was to question Michael and my story with my Michael, it would mean I would have to question everything in my life. It wasn’t even an option to think about it. Michael was good. That was all that existed in my mind.”
Why Safechuck couldn’t testify: “I did not testify thinking I was doing something good. I was afraid of being caught. It was on the news 24/7. There was so much attention on it in the world. I didn’t think of it as good or bad. It was that old wiring that if you get caught, your life would be over. It was self-preservation.”
How Jackson began grooming victims like Robson and Safechuck: “The grooming began long before we ever met him” explained Robson. “He was such a massive figure and represented himself as such an angel and I didn’t have a childhood. I love children so much; that’s why I love children so much. I want other children to have a childhood. So long before ever meeting him for the first time, so much has been set up already.”
How Jackson would manipulate the boys: “He would do that a lot, cry,” said Safechuck. “He would put on what I now see as an act that he felt too much and he would cry for you, or he would cry because he’s so lonely. You want to be there for him.”
Why Robson’s mother Joy could not listen to her son detail the abuse he endured at the hands of Jackson: “Joy asked me to fast forward through it,” Reed told Winfrey. “She couldn’t handle it. It would be too much for her. She wasn’t ready to hear it.” Safechuck, in the meantime, said he has yet to fully process how his mom heard the details for the first time. “I think I shut off when I was watching with her … I think I still need to go back and revisit that.”
Robson’s earliest impression of Jackson: “At 7, I was afraid he was going to turn into the werewolf from Thriller. You know what I mean? That’s where I was. That’s the Michael I knew.”