Less than a month after Lifetime’s documentary Surviving R. Kelly aired, exposing the R&B’s singer’s decades-long pattern of abuse against black women, HBO and the UK’s Channel 4 announced Thursday that they will be airing the documentary Leaving Neverland about Michael Jackson’s alleged history of molestation. The upcoming documentary, directed by Dan Reed (The Pedophile Hunters), details the stories of two men, now in their 30s, who claim they were molested by Jackson when they were seven and ten years old.
Jackson’s estate has had a similar response to Leaving Neverland as R. Kelly’s had to Surviving R. Kelly. They’ve already tried to discredit the accusers, telling TMZ the film is “another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.” But public reactions have been much more divided due to Jackson’s more complicated history. Most famously, the family of thirteen-year-old Gavin Arvizo took Jackson to court in 2005 over claims that included child molestation. During the trial, the boy’s mother admitted that she had lied under oath while testifying in an unrelated civil case, severely harming her credibility in the eye’s of the court. Jackson was found not guilty on all charges in that case. According to The Wrap, Arvizo is not the subject of the film. And neither is the fourteen-year-old boy Jackson paid millions of dollars to settle with outside of court in 1994.
Though producers have yet to officially announce who the two subjects of the film are, in the photo advertising it, Jackson is reportedly standing next to a young Wade Robson, now a celebrity dance choreographer in his 30s. Robson sued Jackson’s estate and production companies in 2013 claiming he was repeatedly molested by Jackson when he was seven. He was a protégé of the mega star who, at the time, danced in videos like “Black and White.” Robson testified that he was never assaulted by the singer during his 2005 trial. But once he did sue, he lost his case in 2017 when a California judge ruled Jackson’s production companies couldn’t be held accountable for his actions and his statute of limitations had expired. Jackson’s estate also accused him of primarily seeking money.
The other subject of the film is suspected to be computer programmer James Safechuck, who filed a lawsuit against Jackson’s estate in 2014 at age 36. Safechuck claimed he was molested for several years after acting in Jackson’s Pepsi commercial when he was 10. He was listed by Neverland Ranch staff as a potential victim during Jackson’s 2005 trial, but he denied being assaulted at the time. Safechuck signed onto Robson’s lawsuit and was also dismissed for the same reasons—that too much time had elapsed.
Representatives from Jackson’s estate wasted no time in addressing the two men’s accusations. “Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who was Jackson’s companion as a child and sued Jackson’s estate over sexual abuse claims, have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception,’ filed lawsuits against Michael’s estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed. This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that Gavin Arvizo’s mother had admitted to lying under oath while testifying against Michael Jackson. She actually admitted to lying in an earlier court case that did not involve Jackson. We regret this error.
Leaving Neverland will air sometime after its premiere at Sundance Film Festival on January 25.