The two-part HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” has put renewed scrutiny on sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson. But in the eyes of Oprah Winfrey, the cultural fallout will go far beyond the King of Pop.
“For me, this moment transcends Michael Jackson. It is much bigger than any one person,” Winfrey said during an hourlong special that aired after the conclusion of “Neverland” on Monday night. “This is a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption.”
Winfrey, who revealed on her talk show more than 30 years ago that she was sexually abused as a child, was joined by Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the two accusers at the center of “Neverland,” and Dan Reed, the film’s director. She praised Reed for his approach to the project.
“I taped 217 episodes [of “Oprah”] on sexual abuse. I tried and tried and tried to get the message across to people that sexual abuse was not just abuse. It was also sexual seduction,” Winfrey said, adding that Reed was “able to illustrate in these four hours what I tried to explain in 217.”
"Neverland" is largely made up of unflinching testimony from Robson, 36, and Safechuck, 40, who both claim they were befriended by Jackson and then sexually abused by him when they were children.
The 236-minute film also explores the trauma they say they experienced as adults and features interviews with some of their family members, including both of their mothers.
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Robson, who claims the abuse started when he was 7, and Safechuck, who claims it started when he was 10, had previously told authorities there had been no sexual misconduct. Robson testified in Jackson's defense at the 2005 molestation trial. But they have since filedlawsuits against the Jackson estate. They are appealing after their suits were dismissed due to the statute of limitations.
But the detailed, graphic allegations in the documentary nonetheless threatened to permanently tarnish Jackson’s artistic legacy, forcing fans to reckon with disturbing claims that might be impossible to reconcile with the singer’s inspirational music.
“Neverland” aired over Sunday and Monday nights, provoking emotionally charged responses on social media from high-profile celebrities and shaken viewers.
“I hope everyone watches this,” Ellen DeGeneres tweeted during Winfrey’s interview with Robson and Safechuck, which aired on HBO and Winfrey’s cable network, OWN.
Rosie O’Donnell tweeted that the documentary, which premiered to a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival in late January, was a “haunting" viewing experience.
Rose McGowan, an actress and prominent voice in the #MeToo movement, said Robson, Safechuck, Reed and Winfrey were all “brave” for taking part in the film.
The survivors are brave. .@Oprah is brave. The documentarians are brave. This is what brave is folks, standing against the grain, going against the norm, rocking the boat because sometimes it needs to be rocked. It is hard to hear truth, but that’s what growing pains are. #Bravehttps://t.co/luV8wiImAp
Jackson’s defenders, including what the New York Times described as the singer’s “tenacious” legion of online fans, assailed the documentary, deluging Twitter with disparaging comments.
#MJInnocent they take advantage now only for the fact that he can't defend himself. These people are sick. It's time to stop all of this, Michael doesn't deserve all of this. He is INNOCENT. I will always love and defend him. There is nothing that proves what they claim.
Jermaine Jackson, one of the pop star's brothers, tweeted after the broadcast debut of the first installment that the media, including Winfrey, was "blindly taking #LeavingNeverland at face value, shaping a narrative uninterested in facts, proof, credibility."
#Neverland OK I WATCHED IT ALL I KNOW IS WHAT I EXPERIENCED, & YES EVERY EXPERIENCE WAS THE SAME....RIGHT UP 2 THE SEX PART! THAT IS WHERE IT BECOMES LALA LAND, INSTEAD OF NEVERLAND 4 ME. WE NEVER SPOKE ABOUT SEX OTHER THAN A FEW WARNINGS ABOUT HOW SEX WAS SCARY, & DANGEROUS. MJ
Corey Feldman, the former child star who was close friends with Jackson as a child and said in 2011 that pedophilia was "the No. 1 problem in Hollywood," appeared to suggest in a tweet that the allegations against the King of Pop were false.