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Tuesday
Mar052019

Doc Corner: 'Leaving Neverland'

By Glenn Dunks

Please note this review discusses topics that will be upsetting to some readers.

How long is too long for a film like Leaving Neverland? Not long enough, it would seem. Don’t get me wrong – watching Dan Reed’s four-hour document of the physical and psychological abuses heaped onto two underage boys in the 1990s by the most famous man in the world, Michael Jackson, is rough-going. It’s sickening, it’s confronting, and its hard to sit through. It’s also compelling and I, for one, believe them. --  I figure I should get that out of the way right at the top.

Reed does something great with with this material, which could so easily have been sensationalized or turned into cheap, ghoulish true crime fodder. His approach is elegant, refined and simple and yet holds the weight that such a discussion deserves...

The director, no stranger to making documentaries about sex crimes, has for the most part simply allowed these two boys, now men with wives and children of their own, to sit and tell their story. They and their family members who chose to participate are filmed in simple set-ups in warm, comforting surroundings and are given the time and the patience to speak in ways that allow us to really get into their minds. Quite frankly, I could have listened to more. I would listen to as much as they want to say because the pain and the trauma they detail that was allowed to go on is powerful and deserves to be heard, whether you believed the accusations against Jackson before or not.

Michael Jackson’s crimes, albeit legally only alleged, are too numerous to name but include sexual molestation of children as young as seven years of age, forced penetration of teenagers, systemic grooming of underage boys and teenagers, psychological manipulation and blackmail. These are all laid out by Robson and Safechuck in such clear and precise detail that many will struggle to watch. But to do so is, I feel, extremely important. To fit their story into a tidier space just because this way makes us uncomfortable feels completely besides the point. The pain and trauma of their recollections are only heightened by the justification that they held on to for years up to and including Robson’s testifying on Jackson’s behalf in court not too long before his death in 2009.

There isn’t a moment of padding, which is extraordinary for a four-hour movie built almost exclusively around people sitting in chairs and talking. That is a testament to both the material and the reign that Reed allows his subjects, but also to editor Jules Cornell whose work here builds a real-time narrative out of the two parallel stories alongside the use of scant but all too effective use of archival video that shows just how in-plain-site Jackson’s predilections were. Drone footage of Los Angeles and Brisbane is a refreshing breath of fresh air yet never takes away from the impact of the words we’re listening to.

This need for the victims and survivors to simply be given the time and space to tell their stories is also the most powerful aspect of Surviving R Kelly, a more traditional series that aired earlier this year on America’s Lifetime network (I have only watched two of the episodes that were previewed for me upon its local release). That series allows for 360 minutes across six episodes, but while the stories are just as compelling and important, I was disappointed that directors Nigel Bellis and Astral Finnie chose such a shlock aesthetic that more closely resembles a Behind the Music expose. It cheapens the series, although it doesn’t diminish its subject matter that just as directly lays out the trail of abuse that R Kelly committed against numerous young black women. Their stories deserved better.

The discourse around both Leaving Neverland and Surviving R Kelly has already been quite vocal from both sides, with personal and now legal action swift in the latter. Despite its runtime, the Jackson doc doesn’t grapple with many of the issues that run adjacent to it. It does end with a literal burning of Jackson records and memorabilia by one of its two subjects so even though it doesn’t dive into the cultural issue of whether we should forever not listen to his music, I guess it’s easy to see it being heavily implied. But Leaving Neverland doesn’t need to go there. Dan Reed clearly wants nothing more than to just let Wade and Jimmy speak for themselves. It’s hard to deny their power. The rest is up to us to decide.

Release: Streaming on HBO.

Oscar chances: I don’t know if it will be eligible. HBO are known for going theatrical alongside television, but it’s two-parter status may mean it’s out of the running before they even attempt it. It's so hard to know these days with frequent rule changes. Even then, it’s going to be a lightning rod that even Oscar might balk at the prospect.

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Reader Comments (36)

It sounds brutal to watch, but necessary. As much I didn’t want to believe it to be true, MJ was a textbook pedophile.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter///

I am 1 of the people who don't believe a word of it.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Why don’t you believe it, mark? Is it because Wade perjured himself under oath? The documentary addresses that I heard.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter///

There are too many inconsticencies,false allegations,you can read lots on the internet from many people and to me this isn't as cut and dried as the doc makes it out to be,it is totally 1 sided,nothing said about MJ and his childhood which if it is true would explain why he became the same as his alleged abusers.

These are allegegations and now he's dead the worms come out,MJ cannot defend himself now only his brothers and family can and they can also be accused of having "reasons".

I don't know if he did the things or not and if a court said he did then these 2 definitely deserve help and sympathy.

Each person will come with their own pre conceived notions anyway,MJ made himself the target with his lifestyle

The burning of records was very trashy,maximised to give as the full cathartic experience and it rang out hollow.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Wonderful writing. Beautiful, beautiful. The best about a doc by far. Agree with everything you wrote. 👏👏 👏👏👏

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

I found it really sad but compelling. My personal feeling is that Jackson groomed his fans to become enraptured with him, and all his "I love children" was BS and a red flag that people did not notice until it was too late. He was a textbook predator - he wooed the children and the families, separated them and made them take sides, gave them lavish gifts, told the children to keep the sex a secret, and then ultimately discarded them until he found his next victim. For anyone -- including myself -- who was sexually abused as a minor, it takes years and years to be able to talk about it and understand it. There are just too many boys that Michael harmed to ignore it, and I do wonder why his fans are still clinging on to a child molester.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Alleged child molester.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Anyone who watches the 4-hour documentary and doesn't believe they are telling the truth must have a really hard time in their interpersonal relationships for not being able to read social cues, body language, emotion, facial expressions and intonation, probably to the level of being in the autistic spectrum. Or maybe they have such a stubborn attitude and a need to be right that they refuse to see it otherwise.
The two victims speak from a place of honesty and yes, they are bit removed from it emotionally because they are being narrators and also because we do that as self-preservation. They are not looking for sympathy from the viewer, which makes it really powerful, since what they are doing is something very personal, something that connects to their healing process: speaking out.
I personally cannot separate the artist from the art because the world needs decent people MUCH more than great art, which is relative anyway. All I know is I will never be able to listen to MJ's music again without thinking about the words of James and Wade and no matter how beautiful Jackson's art once was, it is now forever tainted by his actions.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJared

Saving it for the weekend. I really don't want to watch it.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Maybe for you Jared,Why does a difference of opinion bring out personal attacks on posters.

Unless your an Autism specialist you shouldn't be diagnosing and are you a marriage counsellor if not then you've no right to comment on peoples partnerships.

I am sure you do believe every word,I having read in depth on the subject do not.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I wasn't attacking anyone personally. I mean what I said in general. Besides, saying somebody may be in the autistic spectrum is not an attack at all. There is nothing wrong with being in the spectrum. I just meant for some people it is harder to read emotional cues, which is one of the characteristics inherent to the autistic spectrum. The documentary shows two human beings telling a story that happened to them with emotional nuance represented in their eyes, voice and body language. If one can't or chooses not to see it, they have their reasons and that can be very telling of many aspects of their personality. But yes, I believe they are telling the truth. And no, I don't believe "every" word. Often, as we tell personal stories we solidify certain aspects of the storytelling because of avoidance or shame or pride, so how we verbalize parts of it becomes entangled with our idea of how we want to be perceived by others or how we want to make others feel towards us.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJared

Best Sci-Fi movie EVER! There I said it...

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

Jackson was pure evil. shame on people making excuses for him.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteranonny

I don't know if I want to see this. Especially since it's been a decade since Jackson has passed away and for all of the investigation to happen ever since the accusations in 1993 as the FBI found nothing and even the courts didn't find anything on him. I'm suspicious about these allegations as let's not forget that Wade Robson was the guy who was sleeping with Britney Spears at the time she was with Justin Timberlake.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

As a long-time Jackson fan, this is going to be a necessary (but brutal) watch.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

I'm definitely *not* watching this. Not in a place to handle disturbing things at the moment.

March 5, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Was very compelling television. It was like watching a brutally honest therapy session. I totally believe the two young men. I also believe Jackson was an evil manipulator and pedophile. It's too bad he got away with it. With that being said, some of the blame should be placed with the parents of the young men too.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Thevoid, who Wade was having consensual sex with as an adult (with an adult) is of no relevance whatsoever and it’s kinda gross to bring it up.

The reason other cases never went anywhere were because of the same reason many sexual assault cases don’t end up with a guilty verdict. Beyond a reasonable doubt is essentially built from the point of belief that rape victims often can’t “prove” anything beyond their testimony and because they often are left too long. These men lay it out very clearly why they kept it a secret for so long and it’s got nothing to do with wanting fame or fortune or attention.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Very harrowing but overall a very accurate depiction of sexual abuse and all the luring. Part 2 was stronger since it reflected in the repercussions of the abuse. Insidious

For anyone interested, the Oprah special is an excellent complementary viewing.
http://www.oprah.com/own-oprah-winfrey-presents-after-neverland/oprah-winfrey-presents-after-neverland

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterXavier

I really don't want to watch it. I am not a crazy Jackson fan- yes he created some great songs and musical moments but he also has his limits. I really don't understand the parents of these children how they allowed this to happen .

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

"Oprah: Are you a Virgin? Michael Jackson: I'm a gentleman." He's not that interest in women, and he loves to hang out with kids.

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteralexx

Two of my all time fave songs are 'Man in the Mirror' and 'Can you feel it'. I don't know how I can ever listen to these songs again IF the allegations are confirmed to be true.

My biggest peeve though is that Michael is not alive to defend himself. The allegations might be true but why do this when he is dead?

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

If the two assholes had not fucked it over in court for that one kid that had the balls to bring Jackson to Justice while he was still alive, I'd maybe have an ounce of sympathy.

As is, now, I can only seem them as a) lying vultures now, after a piece of the Jackson estate, or b) liars back then, when it could have made a difference, and therefore should at least have to pay the legal fees of the guy who truthfully accused Jackson of sexual assault and that the subjects of this doc helped defeat and destroy.

And don't give me the boohoo they were molested BS, because SO WAS MICHAEL JACKSON. MJ's trauma is not an excuse to go out and molest kids (obviously) and their trauma is not an excuse to railroad other assault victims and obstruct Justice.

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

@Glenn-I'm aware of what is about but I'm highly suspicious of these claims. So therefore, shut the fuck up and go eat your avocado toast with the rest of your triggered moronic friends.

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

@ Carmen
I think if you haven't seen the documentary (and that does seem to be the case), you can't really be part of the discussion. Not only that, there was a math issue with your argument. They can't be liars when they said they weren't abused (in the past - for reasons you would understand had you watched the doc) and then liars when they say they were abused (now, that they've reached a point when they are ready to speak out). A and B can't both be falsehoods when they are opposites.
I hope this documentary helps people to understand how sexual abuse works in the mind of those who have been abused. It is not even about the trauma of the sex act itself, but the emotional and psychological repercussions that it entails, paralyzing the victims for years, decades and in many cases, for a lifetime. Wade himself says had he not become a father himself (and reconnected to his inner child through his son), he would probably keep his secret his whole life. It's too complex of a matter for one to resort to the typical internet behavior "I have a strong opinion about this! It's not based on any knowledge of facts and I don't care about them, but hear MY opinion, Goddamnit!".

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJared

@ Jared - you missed an "or" there, buddy. They are alternative propositions that land on the same result: they're liars. Either then OR now. If then, as they claim, even worse, as they fucked up the life of the one person who had the balls to take on the biggest star in the universe. That's the real victim, fucked over twice.

Court of public opinion decades after the accused is dead is not where you settle this. That place is in a Court of Law, granted due process, and when that happened, these two assholes covered for the (now FOREVER alleged AND acquitted) molester. The rest is BS!

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Either you haven't seen the documentary OR you haven't seen the documentary. So, you can go to People's magazine forum and give your "Opinion!" there, buddy.

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGio

I'm not saying what they did was right when they testified in favor of Jackson (Wade did it twice). They did a horrible thing with horrible repercussions for everyone involved, including the children that came after. All I'm saying is that WHEN you watch the documentary you will see why they did it and, whether you accept it or not, it's up to you. I for once prefer to be more like Marge Gunderson and less like Mavis Gary. I try to have empathy for Jackson's father for whatever happened to him that led him to be abusive. And Jackson's lawyers who defended him, knowingly or unknowingly, Jackson himself. It's not about getting there, but exercising it.

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJared

For anyone who read the articles in Vanity Fair before the trial, after the trial, back in the day, this documentary is a deja vu experience. It's not new information, but it's a collection.
Btw. I believe the parents of those kids were guilty of cultural blindness, stupidity, or greed.
It's a dark story, and there were a lot of enablers.

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

@ Jared - I appreciate any and all Francis McDormand analogies. We'd all be better off as Marge Gunderson, for sure, I'm just more of a Mildred Hayes.

@ Gio - Gurl, please. Take several seats.

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

The thing is, the film brings up all of these things! They guilt over not coming forward because they hadn’t reconciled yet what had actually happened to them, the blame of the parents, and everything else. People fighting over this movie who haven’t even seen it. Do people really think they’re going to get money from the Jackson estate because of a movie? There’s little logic in that for the very reasons that people seem to think they shouldn’t have come out with it (he’s not around anymore so why would they give him money once they’ve already come out in a doc?)

Thevoid, I honestly don’t know what that means other than maybe you’re making fun of people for whom discussing sexual abuse could indeed be triggering.

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Wild as hell, straight bullshit, and if there is any truth in his story , his parents are negligent and dumb as hell. They not dumb they knew what they were doing and seen an opournity to take advantage of MJ. The Mother wasn't ashamed of being dumb and allowing her son to quote be abused . She laughed the entire time and talked about the house and was waiting for an invite back. Even though she was lonely there. I bet she wasn't too lonely spending MJ money and living the lifestyle of the Ritchie and famous. Bumb bitch. She sold her son , tricked him off if thats the case. Waiting to be called back like she had no job nor life in Australia. SMDH! Why now when MJ been gone 10 years and they want to take money from MJ Children fuckin loosers.

March 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterElviraelyse

I believed in in the 90s, in the early 00s and I believe now. Bravo to them for speaking out, for facing their traumas in the face of it all. And how heartbreaking to think about how many more boys he abused that we don't know of (yet).

March 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterV.

I have always tried my best to give Michael Jackson the benefit of the doubt.; however, it was difficult to do at times. I watched the film Leaving Neverland three times and have decided that I absolutely believe Wade Robson and James Safechuck. They are not the frightened star-struck immature children they used to be.. At that time they had little if any ability at all to accurately provide a true account of what they endured at the hands of Michael Jackson. Now that they are mature adults they now have that ability

March 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda

This documentary serves as a huge wake-up call to everyone across the globe. Parents sit up and take notice. . Children learn a lesson. Thanks to this film we all know about the elaborate grooming process that pedophiles use to lure their victims and their victim's families. Now a pedophile has to work harder than ever to lure their victims

March 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda

I Found it very uncomfortable to watch at times, as the knot in the pit of the stomach gets bigger,
I worked in forensic counselling for 5 years and which included sex offenders. there is no doubt in my mind that these young men are telling the truth and that M.J was a paedophile and probably one of the worst as he could do it so openly and under so many nose's his whole house and lifestyle was set to entice children in like a lion. The manipulation he played and kept grooming more and more boys. I just wish he had been found guilty and that all victims could have felt some justice. the world is differently safer with Michael in it.

March 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDEE

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