Fans reckon with dark side of Michael Jackson after ‘Leaving Neverland’ premiere

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.

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.

https://twitter.com/BBonTheBrain/status/1102425700454129665

And then there are those who are choosing simply to believe survivors.

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.

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

Samira Sadeque

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