The estate of pop icon Michael Jackson has denounced the four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland, which follows two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who claim Jackson sexually abused them as children in the 1990s.
The estate has called it "the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death," according to a statement released on Friday. "The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred," the statement goes on to say. "They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations, which means the entire film hinges solely on the word of two perjurers."
The estate says the film focused too heavily on the stories of Robson and Safechuck while ignoring accounts of others who also spent time with Jackson. "[Director Dan Reed] intentionally avoided interviewing numerous people over the years who spent significant time with Michael Jackson and have unambiguously stated that he treated children with respect and did nothing hurtful to them," the statement also read.
The statement came on the night of its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where it reportedly earned a standing ovation. The film is set to air on HBO later this year.
See the full statement below.
Leaving Neverland isn’t a documentary, it is the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death. The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact. These claims were the basis of lawsuits filed by these two admitted liars which were ultimately dismissed by a judge. The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations, which means the entire film hinges solely on the word of two perjurers.
Tellingly, the director admitted at the Sundance Film Festival that he limited his interviews only to these accusers and their families. In doing so, he intentionally avoided interviewing numerous people over the years who spent significant time with Michael Jackson and have unambiguously stated that he treated children with respect and did nothing hurtful to them. By choosing not to include any of these independent voices who might challenge the narrative that he was determined to sell, the director neglected fact checking so he could craft a narrative so blatantly one-sided that viewers never get anything close to a balanced portrait.
For 20 years Wade Robson denied in court and in numerous interviews, including after Michael passed, that he was a victim and stated he was grateful for everything Michael had done for him. His family benefitted from Michael’s kindness, generosity and career support up until Michael’s death. Conveniently left out of Leaving Neverland was the fact that when Robson was denied a role in a Michael Jackson themed Cirque du Soleil production, his assault allegations suddenly emerged.
We are extremely sympathetic to any legitimate victim of child abuse. This film, however, does those victims a disservice. Because despite all the disingenuous denials made that this is not about money, it has always been about money – millions of dollars – dating back to 2013 when both Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who share the same law firm, launched their unsuccessful claims against Michael’s Estate. Now that Michael is no longer here to defend himself, Robson, Safechuck and their lawyers continue their efforts to achieve notoriety and a payday by smearing him with the same allegations a jury found him innocent of when he was alive.
Jackson was accused of child sexual abuse in 1993, and child molestation in 2005. He pled not guilty and would later be acquitted both times.
Thumbnail image via Kevork Djansezian-Pool/Getty Images.
On Monday, MJ's family also issued a statement denouncing the documentary and calling Robeson and Safechuck "liars," as Vulture points out.
Read the Jackson family's full statement below.
Michael Jackson is our brother and son. We are furious that the media, who without a shred of proof or single piece of physical evidence, chose to believe the word of two admitted liars over the word of hundreds of families and friends around the world who spent time with Michael, many at Neverland, and experienced his legendary kindness and global generosity. We are proud of what Michael Jackson stands for.
People have always loved to go after Michael. He was an easy target because he was unique. But Michael was subjected to a thorough investigation which included a surprise raid of Neverland and other properties as well as a jury trial where Michael was found to be COMPLETELY INNOCENT. There has never been one piece of proof of anything. Yet the media is eager to believe these lies.
Michael always turned the other cheek, and we have always turned the other cheek when people have gone after members of our family — that is the Jackson way. But we can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on, and the vulture tweeters and others who never met Michael go after him. Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made.
The creators of this film were not interested in the truth. They never interviewed a single solitary soul who knew Michael except the two perjurers and their families. That is not journalism, and it’s not fair, yet the media are perpetuating these stories.
But the truth is on our side. Go do your research about these opportunists. The facts don’t lie, people do. Michael Jackson was and always will be 100% innocent of these false allegations.
This post was updated on Monday January 28, 2019 at 12:20 p.m. to include a statement from Michael Jackson's family.