HBO debuted the trailer for its Michael Jackson doc Leaving Neverland, which is anchored by the stories of two men who claim Jackson sexually abused them as children.
The film, which debuted at Sundance and reportedly drew protests and police presence, is a harrowing, horrifying four-hour look at the lives of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, whom Jackson befriended as children. Robson was just 5 years old when he was brought up onstage to dance with Jackson, after winning a Michael Jackson dance contest at his local mall; Safechuck appeared in a Pepsi commercial with the superstar. Their interviews include graphic accounts of the grooming and sexual acts they endured, and the film shows how far Jackson’s reach into their lives extended: He made their families feel safe and, as a result, they let their guards down.
The doc also points out that Robson and Safechuck both testified on Jackson’s behalf during a 1993 trial in which another boy claimed Jackson molested him at Neverland Ranch, and Robson did the same in Jackson’s 2005 molestation trial, stating under oath that he wasn’t abused. In 2013, Robson filed a civil lawsuit against Jackson’s estate requesting compensation for childhood abuse.
After it debuted at Sundance, Jackson’s estate claimed that the film is “character assassination” and “takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact.” Director Dan Reed responded to the statement, saying that the film isn’t directly about Jackson; it’s “an account of sexual abuse, how sexual abuse happens, and then how the consequences play out later in life.”
Leaving Neverland airs March 3 on HBO.