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After much anticipation, Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary about the child sex abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, dropped on Sunday.
The two-part doc, directed by Dan Reed, focuses on alleged victims Wade Robson and James Safechuck, going into great detail of the sexual abuse they say they suffered at the hands of the pop star. Over the years, there have been at least five men who have come forward to say Jackson reportedly shared his bed with them and was abused by him as children.
At both trials where Jackson faced child sex abuse claims, in 1993 and 2005, Robson testified that his relationship with Jackson was innocent. In Leaving Neverland, he says he did not know to acknowledge his experience as abuse at the time. “I didn’t feel like I was hurt by it, that it was anything bad that had happened to me,” he says, according to the New Yorker.
In recent years, fans have had to grapple with the fact that some of their biggest heroes in the art world are abusers—from Bill Cosby, to Louis C.K., to R. Kelly. But the Jackson allegations hit a nerve, and a legacy, much deeper. He defined an entire generation’s idea of music, and was the “the most widely idolized pop star on earth,” as the New Yorker aptly puts it.
When such revelations arise against these artists—even though rumors, and often court cases, have been around for years—the trend has generally been for many to believe survivors while some fans remain true to their heroes. We all knew that Jackson’s case would likely be the most divided, and it’s showing.
Many on Twitter used Robson’s turn-around regarding what he said about his relationship with Jackson to discredit him, entirely dismissing the complex layers about how, when, and why survivors’ decide to share their experience. Oftentimes, it takes years for abuse survivors to understand and define what happened, especially when you trusted and cared about the abuser, not to mention the pressure you could face in speaking out against someone so powerful.
Wade’s claims it happened 100s times. His mother testified in the ‘05 criminal case they visited the ranch 4 times a year in 14 yrs & MJ was there for ONLY 4 times. Someone’s getting caught out on their lies here, keep talking👌🏻 Mocking real #metoo victims #LeavingNeverland pic.twitter.com/hXKR4NLblp— Prakash Patel (@ashpatel2010) March 1, 2019
"Proof" in Leaving Neverland— Jessica Vill (@jbunzie) March 2, 2019
Michael was honored at the Regent hotel on Feb. 20th 1990
Wades birthday is on Sept. 7th
So he STOPPED a public press conference to say Happy Birthday to a kid 7 months early?
If Wade was honest he wouldnt need to make a fake video. Case closed. pic.twitter.com/9Dey70Xlgh
#LeavingNeverland has shocked the world. But is the docu based on facts? Why don’t you decide for yourself. The thread below shows evidence of Wade contradicting himself. Wonder why the media refuses to show these? Get ready for Wade vs Wade! #MichaelJackson— Jessica Madsen (@love_allfor) March 4, 2019
Many are sharing their support for Jackson with #MJFam, which was heavily promoted by his nephew Taj Jackson. Others are comparing the documentary to the recent docuseries about R. Kelly, which also led to a split among of his fans.
And then there are those who are choosing simply to believe survivors.
They were innocent little kids. They knew no better. This man must be removed from any/all pedestals, and put in his proper place in history: a megastar who abused his power to molest little boys. Unforgivable. #LeavingNeverland— Morgan J. Freeman (@mjfree) March 4, 2019
The trauma of racism has victimized some Black people in such a way that they think defending sexual abusers within our community will protect us.— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) March 4, 2019
We've seen this done in the Black church, entertainment industry, sports...etc.
ENOUGH. It's killing us. #LeavingNeverland
Watching #leavingneverland and I genuinely dunno how anyone can watch this and do anything but believe these two men and ache for them?— Sarah Hagi (@geekylonglegs) March 4, 2019
Of course, for many die-hard fans who believe Jackson’s victims, it’s still a battle to reckon the alleged pedophile with the musical genius—but it’s a battle they know they have to fight.
This is going to be tough #LeavingNeverland— Sylvia Obell (@SylviaObell) March 4, 2019
Everything they’re saying in this setup is absolutely true. MJ made us feel things that no other artists today can. My childhood memories are absolutely tied up with memories of Michael Jackson. This is going to be rough. #LeavingNeverland— Anna Lucente Sterling (@AnnaMSterling) March 4, 2019
This Michael Jackson doc is a very hard watch but damn is it important. We have to see this so we can learn from this as a fame obsessed culture that easily ignores things so they can happen & continues to ignore things just so you can dance to certain gd songs. #LeavingNeverland— Stephanie Mickus (@smickable) March 4, 2019
I’m floored by the courage of James Safechuck and Wade Robson’s courage in relating the details of how they were groomed and abused by Michael Jackson. It couldn’t be easy especially knowing how many refuse to still see Jackson as a pedophile. #LeavingNeverland— Scott Miller (@ScottMiller701) March 4, 2019
Resistance met the documentary before it aired. In February, the Michael Jackson estate sent a letter to HBO claiming it to be “an admittedly one-sided, sensationalist program,” and reportedly requested a meeting to come to a “solution.” HBO ignored the warning and stood by its decision to go ahead with the premiere.
Jackson might be our hardest moment of #MeToo reckoning yet. It may not be easy to examine the damage our heroes impose with their power, but, in 2019, it’s impossible to close our eyes to it.
Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque